THE DARK ROOM
by David Byrne.
New Diorama Theatre 15 Triton Street Regent’s Place NW1 3BF To 28 April 2012.
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7383 9034.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 April.
Witty, pointed and beautifully choreographed ensemble piece.
There was a time Hollywood decided any story could be located in an American High School -1999s Ten Things I Hate About You reset The Taming of the Shrew in Padua High. Now the New Diorama’s David Byrne, with his own theatre and a theatre company, PIT, puts the one in the other to relocate Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui to an English High School.
Ui records Hitler’s rise, using fear and corruption, in terms of 1930s Chicago gangsters. In an hour, Byrne focuses on a suavely sketched story of fear and violence in classroom and corridor.
At its heart is Madeleine MacMahon’s new girl Ruth. Gently-voiced, quietly-spoken and neatly turned-out, she might be the poor victim. But near the sugary surfaces of voice and smile are signs of her ruthlessness. Near the start we see Student Support worker June turn from honeyed welcome to bitter viciousness. The next fifty-five minutes show why.
Though parallels can occasionally seem strained and there’s no pausing for detail, the show, hurtling at a terrific pace, presents a seemingly-inexhaustible supply of images – Support Worker and new student in an incredibly confined office, created by two blackboards squeezed almost together, expressive of the never-quite-adequate facilities schools provide.
These two freestanding blackboards (not whiteboards; ‘school’ plays are almost always slightly out-of-date) are used to reveal wittily pointed images – beautiful Jessica lounges on one (vertically) as she arranges school social life. Until the final one.
This matches hilarity with terror, as a board slides aside to show a row of empty chairs: Ruth’s enemies have been dispatched. Performances equally mix humour and horror. Leah Milner’s school paper editor and tabloid hack in–the-making is a fine comic creation, eyes screwed tight in secretive delight, chin jutting invasively forward as if unable to wait for revelations, yet turns to a fearful whimperer when her own life’s revealed.
All are neatly characterised, MacMahon particularly exuding a sour-sweet threat that finally implicates the audience, before making the point that tyranny quietly arises because, at each stage, people let it. While, for example, they are laughing.
Luke: Andy McLeod.
James: Ed Cobbold.
Ruth: Madeleine MacMahon.
June: Natalie York.
Ethel: Leah Milner.
Jessica: Hannah Duncan.
Director: David Byrne.
Lighting: Catherine Webb.
Sound/Music: Dominic Brennan, Phil McDonnell.