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The Dark Things

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Venue: Traverse Theatre
Where: Edinburgh

Daniel is an award-winning modern artist and one of two people to survive an infamous bus crash. As he struggles with preparations for his next eagerly-anticipated exhibition, attempts to reconcile his raw, confused emotions backfire. Coming under attack for supposedly exploiting the deaths of his fellow passengers for profit, he continues to fall apart. Being surrounded by his alcoholic psychiatrist Gerry, wheelchair-bound fellow survivor LJ and impressionable half-sister Steph, is anything but calming.

This is writer Ursula Rani Sarma’s first commission for the Traverse Theatre – the home of new writing in Scotland. She is certainly ambitious in exploring themes of death, fame and self-discovery, and her narrative consistently – and joyously - fails to follow paths of convention.

Brian Ferguson is restrained and assured as the emotionally-torn artist Daniel. His relationship with LJ (Suzanne Donaldson) develops smoothly into tender realms, both actors creating a consistently believable situation. Yet it is the superbly acted sub-plot following his half sister (Nicola Jo Cully) and the stomach-churning relationship with her manipulative boyfriend Karl (Keith Fleming) that is most gripping. The painful double-act of gullible celebrity-wannabe and self-interested thug is both uncomfortable and unmissable.

Neil Warmington’s intelligent design exquisitely blurs the line between modern art and debris: plaques which label each ‘exhibit’ are an especially amusing touch. Coupled with John Harris’s claustrophobic sound-scape, we have a perfect environment for the unfolding action.

The final scene may have failed to move me, but it nonetheless holds a fascinating and desperate sentiment, impressively acted. Post-traumatic stress and suicide are not traditional sources of entertainment or humour, yet director Dominic Hill succeeds in grasping the dark comedy, providing inventive staging and producing an engaging evening.


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