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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Dark Noon

Alchemation, Glynis Henderson Productions and The Pleasance present a Fix&Foxy production

Genre: Dark Comedy, Drama, European Theatre, Immersive, International, Multimedia, Political, Theatre, World Theatre

Venue: Pleasance


Low Down

A mind-blowing theatrical experience, Dark Noon is a brutal recreation of the Wild West, the utopian landscape that drew 35 million Europeans in search of a new home. A stunning and explosive drama from award-winning Danish director Tue Biering and co-director Nhlanhla Mahlangu. Told by seven South African actors, Dark Noon pits Native Americans, Chinese immigrants and African slaves against each other in a race for land, gold and Hollywood’s silver screen. They say history is told by the victors; this story is told by the vanquished.


“Go West, young man, go West.”

— Horace Greeley

The history of the American West is a complicated one that has long been simplified to be palatable. Even the above quote, one taught in schools for decades, turned out to be misattributed. Fortunately the enduring legends have been getting a much-needed edit. 

At the start of this new century creator David Milch gave a right smack to the mythology in his acclaimed HBO series Deadwood, a blow followed just a few years ago by author Caroline Fraser, who further dismantled the lore of the self-sufficient frontiersman in her Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. And a few more violent whacks will be arriving this fall when Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of Killers of the Flower Moon, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro, opens later this year. With apologies to Willa Cather, Oh oh oh Pioneers! 

Now down this dusty path to do its corrective damage comes Dark Noon, a theatrical explosion of ideas that is one of the absolute highlights of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, if not THE highlight. What differentiates Dark Noon from all the aforementioned high-profile examples, and what adds a striking level of excitement to the proceedings, is the source of the deconstruction. Dark Noon isn’t by Americans taking a look at themselves; outsiders are now taking a turn. Danish director Tue Biering and South African co-director Nhlanhla Mahlangu have assembled seven South African actors, all of whom are Black save one. And at the start of the play, when those Black actors put on whiteface and blonde wigs, it is clear that in this pointed meta exploration of American history there will be no shirking away from brutal truths.

Lest I make Dark Noon sound like a dry pedagogical lesson, be assured that the only thing parched about this show is the set at the play’s start, a large square of dusty, barren land that is mostly unwelcoming to the (mostly) European immigrants who tried to settle in the promised land of the West, most of which was already home to many tribes of Native Americans who stood no chance against the guns that the newcomers had. Guns in America: a problem then and a problem now. Little wonder then that violence is the one common language in the new frontier; this production has a high body count. But the performers, with their televised close-ups and self-referential narration (actors whose characters have just been murdered are often thanked and dismissed so that the next chapter can begin) keep a stream of levity running through one historical horror after another. 

And they do not act alone. Sitting on three sides of the square, the audience is at times actively recruited to play locals as a Western town is built piece by piece: a church, a jail, a restaurant, a saloon, a railroad track. Rarely is immersive audience interaction handled so well while also advancing the story, and by including the audience so directly and effectively (wait till you see how a line dance concludes), the show asks all in attendance the ways in which they too are complicit in the continuation of this troubled mythology. Even the title, an obvious riff on the beloved Oscar-winning film High Noon, is a poke in the ribs, a reminder to question Hollywood’s glossy Westerns.

Gloriously theatrical and so, so savvy, Dark Noon is an extraordinary epic that entertains and provokes in equal measure. The sublime cast, the first-rate design elements and the multitude of ideas presented leave the surprised, breathless audience no choice but to think about how much spilled blood and inflicted cruelty formed the foundation of this troubled land of opportunity. For if it’s already dark at noon, this stellar show suggests, then the evening ahead holds little promise for light. 




Show Website