Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Jonathan Lichtenstein’s new play delves into the dangers of religious fundamentalism as an immigrant muslim worker disturbs a family of foresters in darkest Wales.
Jonathan Lichtenstein’s last play on the Fringe, The Pull of Negative Gravity about the devastating effect on a Welsh family of their son returning home injured from the Iraq War, deservedly won a Fringe First in 2004. For some reason his 2007 play, Memory, went straight from Clwyd to New York, missing out Edinburgh in between. His new play, Darkness, played to a modestly sized audience on the day I caught it in the slightly cramped stage of Zoo Roxy’s loft space, but it deserves much a bigger house and stage.
In a forest somewhere in Wales, Huw is the rather eccentric uptight head of a family of foresters. His two sons Dan the sensible and Tony the obvious nutjob both tease him for buying snakeskin boots on eBay which he believes were Cliff Richard’s but both sons are obedient to their father’s dominating will. Huw’s other son, Ollie, some time ago fled the nest because of him. Huw’s wife is concerned that it’s starting again.
Into the madness comes Yann, a Croatian labourer taking the best job he can get. Yann’s advances towards Huw’s daughter, Caitlyn, have not been unsuccessful.
The tension rises rapidly, for both Huw and his son Tony have been hearing the voice of God and believe they have been called to induce the Rapture and the immigrant is somehow involved. And today is Ascension Day. And to ratchet the tension further, the prodigal son returns with an aura of terrible calm. He clearly has a plan and you just know this is not going to end well.
Darkness is a study on a domestic scale of the danger that the absolute certainty born of religious fundamentalism bestows on authority figures. There is something very American about the play, in the woodland setting, the dramatic web of family ties and in the mindsets of its characters (belief in the Rapture is massive in the U.S. but very much a minority insanity in the U.K.)
The play rips along to an intense if slightly predictable climax, driven by the stand-out performances of David Tarkenter as Huw and Jamie Wallwork as Tony who are both fully committed to being convincingly demented, Jamie Wallwork in particular carrying off some brilliant over-acting (which I mean as a compliment – it is one of the strongest way-out-on-a-limb performances I have seen this year).
Darkness makes a strong impression, but somehow doesn’t quite hang together completely. It works a bit too hard at saying something and there are quite a few logical inconsistencies which leave the actors at times rather exposed. Nevertheless it is a provocative and powerful play and very well worth seeing.