The Print Room is a relatively new and intimate performing arts venue in Notting Hill which aims to deliver work that is ‘ambitious, adventurous and original'. As audience members are led in pairs by theatre staff through a tranquil garden into the pitch black auditorium to witness this new adaption of Gloria Mina's Tutto Bene, Mama? by April de Angelis, visibility really is zero and ‘ambitious' is certainly a word that springs to mind.
As the plot unfolds, it becomes abundantly clear why Mina chose to set the piece in darkness.
At its unpleasant centre is the death of a young, single mother whose corpse proceeds to decay and attract swarms of flies as her young son looks on and, simply assuming she is ‘sleeping', goes about his daily life in the apartment.
This would clearly pose rather a challenge to present in the traditional way. In addition, the part of the Boy would arguably be far too large and difficult an undertaking for a child to take on, so his voice is supplied by young adult actress Georgia Groome. Her skill is such that it takes a good while to work out that the voice piercing through the darkness is neither male nor that of a child, though once reality dawns it is somewhat distracting.
There's also the niggling feeling that surely any child with half a brain would panic and call 999 at the sight of his mother unconscious on the floor. His reaction is completely unbelievable and this is the plot's major flaw.
Is darkness an effective theatrical mechanism or merely a quirky cop out? Whilst it's true that not being able to see anything forces one to engage in a different way, heightening the other senses and forcing the brain to try and fill in the gaps, unfortunately the sound and smell effects used in this production are somewhat disembodied, quite unrealistic, and do not have a cohesive effect.
Where the piece does succeed is that the experience is distinctly uncomfortable, and there is an overwhelming sense of relief when the action draws to a close. Not typically the aim of theatre perhaps, but this is an ambitious, brave and interesting undertaking nevertheless.
- Helen Macdonald