30 July 2009

In A Dark, Dark House

In A Dark, Dark House
Red Stitch
24 July 2009
Red Stitch Actors Theatre

The great thing about seeing a Red Stitch show is knowing you are going to see an amazing script written by a playwright who loves theatre and understands the difference between writing to be read and writing to be performed. You’re also going to see the work of some of our best independent actors, directors and creators, who are involved because they love the emotional power of theatre. The opening production of Red Stitch’s 2009 Season Two is the Australian premiere of Neil La Bute’s In A Dark, Dark House.

American playwright and film director La Bute wants theatre that is unafraid. In 2008 he said to The Guardian: “Go back to the theatre, audience members everywhere, and get your hands dirty. Sit closer than you usually do. Smell the actors and make eye contact and let a little blood splash on your hem...Let us know that if we are brave enough to write about the stuff that matters, then you'll come and watch. I may never fight a battle, or run for office, or help an old lady across the street - but when I sit down and put pen to paper, I can promise to write about a subject of some importance, and to do so with honesty and courage. The time for fear and complacency is past. Bravery needs to make a comeback on both sides of the footlights, and fast.”

No wonder Red Stitch like him. In A Dark, Dark House is about the abuse, secrets and lies that bond and separate brothers Terry and Drew, and LaBute is unafraid to twist and turn the truth in this uncompromising and disturbing psychological drama.

The script pulls the audience through the story and refuses to let us go until the final moment. Director Wayne Pearn proves his detailed understanding of the script, but this knowledge is almost blocking the audience from the story. In his determination to make sure that we see every foreshadowing hint, he doesn’t let the script speak for itself and puts the audience in a position where we are too far ahead of the action. Because of some obvious sign posting with props and performances that underline the subtle clues, the Act 3 revelations are not surprising or unexpected. It’s so much more rewarding for an audience to think back and remember or re-interpret what we saw, rather than knowing the truth before its revealed to the characters.

Actors Dion Mills, Geordie Taylor and Eloise Mignon are as equally in touch with the script, but they are performing so intelligently that their process is too visible. Physical reactions are happening a split second before the character says or feels something. Characters are reacting to each other just before they actually hear what the other person says. I couldn’t “let the blood splash” on my hem, because I was watching and admiring their technique, rather than living with and feeling for the damaged souls they were portraying.

In A Dark, Dark House is already a terrific piece of theatre that may become astonishing. Everything is already there, but it need to turn the intensity down from a 9 to a 6, let the characters escape from the actors’ conscious thoughts, and trust that the script is so good that the audience don’t need to be “told” what to notice.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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