Claustrophobic, gripping and highly engaging, SUDS’ final slot for the year, The Dark Room by Angela Betzien, is a tense journey into an Australian heart of darkness.
Walking into the Holme Building’s Common Room, the audience was greeted by a neon motel sign and a soft and mournful live piano, setting the scene for the melancholy 70 minutes ahead. The eponymous room is small and stifling, the audience more like interlopers than mere observers. And the title of the production is made more apt still by its tone — The Dark Room is a tragedy set far out in the belly of the Northern Territory, where “deep into the night, six lost souls play out a small, distant tragedy of lovesickness and social breakdown… trapped in a dark and dangerous territory, each of them searching for a way out.”
Make no mistake — The Dark Room is not a happy story. The production itself was confronting and visceral, prefaced by strong content warnings for representation of an Indigenous person after death; references to suicide, murder, rape, self-harm, police brutality, abortion, and domestic violence; strong homophobic and racist language; and depictions of violence. At times, the use of expletive felt a little gratuitous, but not overly so.
Challenging, but with some light to balance its shade, The Dark Room was at its best in its most tender moments. Dani Maher was impressive as Grace, a violent and abused 14-year-old girl, trapped in a deadly battle of wits with Caitlin Williams’ youth worker Anni. The standout performance of the production, however, was Campbell Taylor as Craig — a menacing cop whose tortured villainy was a captivating image of the toxicity of unchecked power and brittle masculinity.
Compositionally, skilful use of lighting and the cramped set — a crowded room where the actors, never leaving the stage, played out their different stories all at once — elevated the polished acting and clever script. And while some of Friday night’s audience were restless and distracting, particularly during moments of high tension, the cast did not let it shake them, continuing their performance with poise and grace.
All in all, The Dark Room demonstrated an impressive calibre of acting, direction and production that ends this year for SUDS on a high note. Kudos to director James Mukheibir, the production team and the cast for such a thrilling display of student talent.