A Stab in the Dark
The Hen and Chickens theatre is located above a pub on a bustling roundabout in North London; an apt setting for a play set in one room detailing an eventful evening spent by three young people squatting in an abandoned London mansion.
Entering the theatre we are greeted with a set that is minimalist, but not bare. A chaise longue and a chair covered in plastic, a few empty boxes, two simple lights and a string of fairy lights overhead spilling coloured light and a dash of personality into an otherwise sterile space. The semi-transparent material at the back of the stage provided an effective way to demarcate the different rooms. The actors stood in freeze frames behind them, their blurred appearance a visual reminder of the confused and often fraught relationships between the characters.
Sitting in their ‘front room’ the audience meets Becca, Flic and Max, billed as ‘a dreamer, a schemer and a player’ though this is only my attribution. Added to the mix is Mr B, a banker, against whom the other three enact their frustrations with the modern world. Characters were clearly defined as distinct from each other but not necessarily strong within themselves. At points the dialogue felt somewhat strained with the script perhaps lacking in concrete characterisation and leaning slightly towards caricatured language. In addition the insistence on overtly vulgar language and sexual activity began to stray to the point of being both crass and uncomfortable.
The directorial decision to include musical interludes and spoken, rather than acted stage directions, was an interesting one. I was initially not convinced that the break from an otherwise naturalistic style of theatre was either necessary or particularly effective. However, after thinking on it more, I believe it helped to demonstrate the disjuncture between the characters’ words and their actions, between what they hoped to achieve and what they were able to, between their success and failure and ultimately between life and death.
Playing at only just over an hour, Ordinary Darkness failed to pack a real punch due to an inability to really relate to the characters. Too much happens too quickly, or is it that really not enough happens that is the problem? Situations seem to escalate rapidly and can thus lack believability; but the key issue is a lack of understanding of the characters themselves to decide whether it is in fact believable or not. Teething problems with the script aside, the actors need to take heart from a competent and polished performance, but going forward endeavour to engage with their characters and in doing so, foster a better relationship with their audience.