Humble Boy, a quietly ruminative, beautifully constructed drama about
the ties that unbind a mother and her son, was always going to be a tough act for Charlotte Jones to follow. But she's done so with tremendous
accomplishment in a tensely textured, hugely atmospheric new play called
The Dark that pulses with urban dread, despair and darkness, literal
as well as metaphorical.
Eight light bulbs hang over various rooms in the shabby multi-levelled house
that designer Lez Brotherston has created on the Donmar stage. The house
has been divided into flats that provide a home for three families. In Jones' vivid snapshots of domestic life, one couple Louisa (Anastasia Hille)
and her architect husband Barnaby (Matt Bardock) have just had a baby, and the sound of its crying echoes around the house.
Meanwhile, a desperately lonely man John (Stuart McQuarrie), who works in
a video shop, negotiates around the demanding elderly mother he lives with
(Sian Phillips). Meanwhile outside, a braying crowd of teenagers who suspect he's a paedophile
constantly taunt him, but this is a case of mistaken
identity due to his unfortunate resemblance to a picture in the local
Then there's Brian (Roger Lloyd Pack), a lorry driver who blacked out at
the wheel and is haunted by the major catastrophe he narrowly avoided. His
wife Janet (Brid Brennan) is plagued by fears of cancer; and their
troubled 14-year-old son Josh (Andrew Turner) locks himself upstairs
in front of his computer and won't talk to his parents.
In overlapping scenes that reveal each family's pained isolation, Jones
provides a short, intense, and bleakly poetic study of their dislocation
from each other. But a sudden blackout precipitates a night of revelation
and suddenly brings them all into a strange kind of collision.
Though Anna Mackmin's production isn't always ideally blocked in the
Donmar's three-sided configuration, with the view of key moments lost even
from my central seat, it has the texture and intensity of real life that
appropriately comes into and out of focus by turns. As life goes falteringly
on, this strange and haunting play exerts a gripping hold, and the superb
ensemble animate it with a powerful sense of foreboding and remorselessness,
grittily underscored by Gareth Fry's soundscape.