“The Darkroom” by Ellen Carr

at C Nova, Monday 13th August 2012

*Written for www.stagewon.co.uk. Published here: http://stagewon.co.uk/news/view/festival-the–dark-room-ed/*

Lord knows why we’re given a sweet, a lavender bag and a scarf when entering The Darkroom. The first two gifts are utterly redundant and seem only to be given as a ploy for making us love the show, whilst we are asked to don the latter at a random point in the show for no apparent reason. What scarves and sweets have to do with the story of an old man with Alzheimer’s I haven’t the foggiest, let alone the wider theme of memory.

The production is written by Ellen Carr and is based on Marquez’ 100 Years of Solitude, featuring a framing device, seeing an “explorer” (Alice Devlin) leading us through the mazes and theories of memory. The story itself focusses around an old man whose only way of remembering things is to write them down and order them in his shed (the darkroom). Three supporting actors play various roles, including his son, carer and wife.

The problem is that, though the ideas about memory are clear enough, there is nothing new here, which is emphasised by the (intentionally) repetitive script and obvious assertions like “memory is a map”. There is little to find compelling about the story of the old man, and sometimes it feels like the play is merely a chance for the company to show how much reading they’ve done about the subject.

The choice to have a young adult playing an old man doesn’t pay off, and two out of the three supporting actors fail to deliver anything very exciting (the exception is the carer). Devlin’s explorer does a good job of guiding us through this strange journey, but it’s not quite enough to salvage some of the unfortunate aspects of the show, specifically a movement section, which, though well-crafted, sees the actors dancing out of time without much energy. The smart work done with a projector (shining images onto tables, slippers and pieces of paper) is countered by an annoyingly loud and unnecessary microphone.

The Darkroom is clearly a smart piece of work, but unfortunately some poor direction means the performances aren’t quite up to scratch and ideas are shoved in without much thought. I am all for immersive theatre, but asking an audience member to put on a scarf is hardly going to make me feel a part of the world on stage, especially if it has nothing to do with the content. The Darkroom really ought to go back to the rehearsal room.

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