Monday, 12 March 2012

Theatre review: Going Dark

Sound&Fury were behind Kursk, one of my favourite shows of 2010, so I was excited about the company's return to the Young Vic. Going Dark is another immersive show but there the similarities end as it's a much more thoughtful, small-scale affair. The audience has to go out the front of the building and round the block to the back entrance of The Clare (so don't arrive at the last minute!) where coats and bags are collected before entering the auditorium.

There's nothing metaphorical about the title Going Dark. There's little light to find your seat by and during the show there's often periods of complete darkness. The show sees Sound&Fury both expand their scope to encompass the whole Universe, and at the same time shrink their focus to inside one man's head. Max (John Mackay, formerly of the RSC's EnsembleTM) is an astronomer whose job at a planetarium sees him describing the infinite on a daily basis. He's also the single father of six-year-old Leo. And he's rapidly going blind.

With so much darkness, what little light there is becomes hugely important and Guy Hoare uses a variety of light sources in interesting ways. Staged in the round (designed by Aleš Valášek,) the set's centrepiece is a kitchen unit that serves as table, storage, speaker and projector, the latter recreating the planetarium effect. The way the projection's used to create the effect of a developing photo or to turn the table into a stove is interesting, although I was irritated when other images were projected onto a piece of card that Mackay had to angle in different ways so the whole audience could get a look; I'm not sure why these bits weren't just projected onto the ceiling as well.

In its juxtaposition of the Universe with this one man's loss of his visual world I found Going Dark profoundly moving. Jan on the other hand found it distinctly so-so and said he wouldn't recommend it to others. For him, the lectures on the universe were all old news so they didn't offer anything to suck him in. Actually although far from an expert there was nothing new to me in the science either, including the conclusion that we are all made of pieces of stars. But something in the way it's expressed in Hattie Naylor's script obviously clicked with me, and made me feel as if this show is the perfect argument against anyone who says science lacks the poetry and wonder of religion.

What I will say though is that, strangely considering how immersed I was most of the time, the weaker sections I found really weak: I kind of had no middle ground in this show, between thinking this was another cert for my highlights of the year, and becoming incredibly impatient with it. I think it's a discomfort issue: The seats are hard and very narrow, so you and your neighbours will be invading each other's personal space a lot; it's stuffy in the low-ceilinged room and you're not allowed to bring drinks in; plus of course there's the dim lighting which adds to the feeling of claustrophobia. In the scenes where complete darkness sets in, it's to demonstrate the all-out assault on the senses of a noisy day on an average street. It's effective in doing so but I wonder if it's the last straw, these were certainly the moments where I felt most fidgety and it pretty effectively took me right out of the moment.

Still, I'd recommend the show for the moments that do work, of which there are many. No, you probably won't learn anything new about the cosmos but it's a well-conceived and executed show that features a strong performance from Mackay (the sole live actor, performing opposite lighting and sound effects and recorded voices) and might even move you.

Going Dark by Hattie Naylor, Mark Espiner, Dan Jones and Tom Espiner is booking until the 24th of March at the Young Vic's Clare.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

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