Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Three flatmates live in a rented flat that has an unusual landlord. He is fascinated and concerned about the destruction of society from within. His belief is that family cures all. He has a wonderful dog called Max and when he is beginning to irritate the flatmates they hatch a plan that leads to the destruction of their relationships and allows him in – permanently.
Three flatmates – a butcher – Brian, a hairdresser – Caol and a nurse – Holly live in a flat. They are short of cash so when Mr Stringer – the landlord – comes round for the rent they hide before admitting they don’t have it. He then starts to come round regularly, popping up at odd times to rail against the world. They get sick of it and plot a revenge involving his beloved dog, Max by killing it, shaving it and serving it up to Mr Stringer in a pie. But like many Shakespearean plots this is to end in tragedy as Brian is not informed it was only a laugh! When he kills the dog, he goes and buys meat to serve in a roast for everyone – including Mr Stringer. Passing it off as Max has unintended consequences as Mr Stringer draws them all into a family unit with him at the head.
This is a fantastic piece of writing. It has pathos and tragedy cheek by jowl with the comedy that hurts – the winces and laughter when Brian helps Max meet his fate for example it drew gasps and laughs in equal measure. It has a fantastic balance between the madcap humour of the young people and the darkness of Mr Stringer and that is very dark. It is also tightly directed with the humour and antics of the young cast contrasted by the stillness and observational darkness of Mr Stringer.
The major strength however comes in the performances. If Mr Hayman will allow me – it is all about the young people. David Hayman, by the way is superb but he is because this is an ensemble piece. Mr Stringer is built into a monster through by these three excellent young actors. Their antics, care and strong performances gives you enough of the fantasies that they create for each other to know that they are lonely and genuinely lost. To see them perform these fantasies whilst Mr Stringer sits and watches is very dark and very deep. You are unaware of the impending horror as he has obviously seen their weakness.
They also work the stage marvellously well with the horror of dog napping Max played out so well. The set helps tremendously as it is a messy flat, giving both context and much for the cast to do. The notes it hits are perfect as a foil for a group of flatmates trying to hide from their landlord that they don’t tidy very often.
Darkle is an excellent vehicle for all four actors as it has managed to touch the right discordant note of horror and concern between the young flatmates and their sinister landlord. It gives us the psychology of damaged relationships whilst opening up a sinister opportunity for a creepy character to take full advantage. Mr Stringer’s final words make us laugh at the absurdity of it but the darkness of a man manipulating others should not be lost on our generation as it was the generation before. This family, created out of emotional need, leaves us laughing in a very nervous way.