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The Darkroom
Published on Sunday, 19 August 2012
3

3 stars

Underbelly, Cowgate (venue website)
Comedy
1 Aug, 8:40pm-9:40pm; 2-13, 15-25 Aug, 3:15pm-4:15pm, 8:40pm-9:40pm; 14, 26-27 Aug, 3:15pm-4:15pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.
 Recommended for age 12+ only.

Whatever other accolades The Darkroom may attract at the Fringe, it certainly takes the prize for the most intriguing goody-bag.  As you head in, you’re handed a sweet, a hat, and a miniature sack of coffee.  And as you wait for the lights to dim, you might want to ask yourself what this handful of random objects means to you… for this is a show about memory, and the transience or permanence of the precious recollections we all hold close to our souls.

A lonely man sits in his shed, surrounded by the chronicle of his recent life.  This is a man who’s so scared of forgetting, he takes a note of everything he does – even down to brushing his teeth or donning his slippers.  But for reasons we pleasingly never quite learn, he’s receiving visitors today: a kind of temporal forensic squad, who leaf through his remembrances to reconstruct his life.  Secrets are learned, stories revealed, and of course, there’s a twist before the final curtain.

The narrative’s punctuated by a series of striking set-pieces, many of which work very well.  The music is also a highlight, with one particularly effective sequence capturing perfectly the passing of the years.  And the little details often captured my attention, as well as my imagination; the obvious excitement of the lab-coated investigators often helped carry me along.

I felt, though, that Witness Theatre succumbed to the common temptation of ticking too many boxes.  It’s a physical performance – but not that physical; there’s a dance – but not much dance; there’s some video work, a few shenanigans with the fourth wall, and so on.  The production never quite worked up a unique style, and they might do better if they chose one or two elements to focus on.  And they talk over each other an awful lot; it’s plainly intentional, but it’s a motif I found confusing rather than distinctive.

Still, this doesn’t distract too much from an interesting storyline, filled with well-judged mysteries and a measure of thoughtful poignancy.  In a sense, it’s a celebration of the mundane… of how the simplest things can seem most beautiful, when viewed through memory’s lens.  But there’s a nagging hint of tragedy, too: what is it that this man’s so desperate to remember, or to forget?  It’s not all wrapped up at the end – the fate of one character remains nicely ambiguous – but it’s a satisfying and believable conclusion, which delivers new perceptions of what’s gone before.

Overall, The Darkroom is a busy, confident and ambitious production, as befits a young company on their debut at the Fringe.  It over-does the repetition sometimes, and there’s not quite enough content to sustain the full hour; I think I might actually have enjoyed it more if it had only been 45 minutes long.  But Witness Theatre are a company worth watching and, when all’s said and done, this play’s worth watching too.

<< Part A   Thom Tuck Flips Out >>

FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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