The Dark Room | Black Swan State Theatre CompanyLeft - Arielle Gray and Jacinta John. Cover - Natalie Holmwood and Will O'Mahony. Photos - Gary Marsh

This is the first show from the 2009 Hotbed Ensemble; Black Swan State Theatre Company’s professional development program for emerging WA artists. Directed by Adam Mitchell, Hotbed’s first show for 2009 is dramatic, traumatic and showcases the talents of this new performers and creatives.

Set in a motel room in an unknown Australian country area, The Dark Room (written by Angela Betzien) consists of three interlinking stories full of pathos and drama. Anni the government youth worker is watching over 14 year old Grace who is doing anything and everything to push Anni’s buttons. Pregnant Emma and her husband Steve both have secrets and trouble is brewing between them. Craig, a policeman who recently shot a child in the line of duty, comes to the motel to think, but is interrupted by a stranger (Joseph).

The play doesn’t run in linear time, nor is it one scene after another. Instead the three narratives end up in the same room, all in their own time and space. This is one of the highlights of this production – the remarkable use of space and the interaction (or lack there of) of the cast in the one room.

The motel room and ensuite is furbished appropriately, yet is entirely painted in a ghostly grey/off white colour that gives the impression of watching a black and white film. Effective lighting (Trent Suidgeest) assists with the delineation and adds to the eerie, remote atmosphere so effectively created by the set (Alicia Clements) and sound (Ben Collins).

Anni (Jacinta John) and Grace (Arielle Gray) have the most text and it is these characters the audience gets to know the best. Grace begins the show with a pillowcase (complete with eye holes, ears and a drawn on mouth) over her head, and it is this eerie image that remains with you even as her tortured, confused soul is revealed. Both John and Gray excel in these two heart wrenching roles.

Will O’Mahony as Stephen didn’t quite pull off the “I’m completely smashed” role that his character said he was, but did manage to portray a man torn between his wife and his friends. Stephen repeatedly moves to leave Emma alone in the motel, but just as repeatedly returns to her side. Natalie Holmwood as Emma was a little erratic, although that might have been primarily the character. Although Betziens writing is realistic to the extreme, I thought Emma was overly (and unnecessarily) histrionic.

The two smallest characters; Craig (Tom O’Sullivan) and Joseph (Kazimir Sas) had the least text and time on stage and as such, were the hardest to relate too. I was unable to grasp why Craig had come to the motel until the very last moment, and the character of Joseph - I still don’t know what he was meant to represent / bring to the script. However, for the small amount of time they were on stage, O’Sullivan and Sas were compelling, and O’Sullivan especially portrayed his characters inner turmoil well.

This is not a show for the fainthearted or easily offended, or anyone who wants an “easy” night at the theatre. The Dark Room is for those who like to be challenged and who want their characters and story lines real and raw. This is an excellent opening show for the 2009 Hotbed Ensemble.

Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
The Dark Room
by Angela Betzien

Venue: Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA)
Dates: 1-17 May 2009
Tickets: Standard: $25, Concession (Senior, Pensioner, Unemployed): $15
Students: (Full time students with photo ID): $15
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing, (08) 9484 1133, Groups 8+ (08) 9321 6831, (BOCS booking fees may apply)

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