Does an individual have the power to change the world? Or are we incapable of changing even ourselves?
These are the questions posed to the audience in Ordinary Darkness, a funny yet poignant new play from New Zealand-born Sarah Robertson and directed by Stella Duffy.
Four characters – a dreamer, a schemer, a player and a banker – are thrown together in a party (of sorts) at a derelict mansion where three of the characters are squatting. Can you guess who doesn’t live there? If you selected anyone other than ‘the banker’, I’m afraid you’ve lost this round.
Flic, Becca and Max (played by Lauren Cooney, Constance Tancredi-Brice and Sam Webster respectively) live in their fantasy world of pure escapism and no responsibility.
Flic is the angry youth overwhelmed by all that is wrong with the world, yet powerless to change even her own situation. Her best friend Becca is a curious mix of hyper sexuality and childishness that leaves her dancing high somewhere in the middle. The manipulative Max assumes the role of the girls’ caretaker and ringleader in their misguided acts of rebellion.
Here we have the classic boyfriend-sleeping-with-the-best-friend-scenario, but if you think this is your typical love triangle tale, guess again.
Into this dysfunctional corner of London comes Mr Banbury (played by Jonathan Bidgood), a banker wanker, a “Square Mile with a pulse”, who is everything Flic, Becca and Max despise. Mr Banbury’s presence will force the three to confront truths about what they believe in, the power they think they hold, and the most dangerous truths about themselves.
All in all, it makes for a highly entertaining evening.
Duffy steers Ordinary Darkness from being roaringly funny to twisted and dark with aplomb. One moment you’ll be laughing as though a friend made a witty comment at a dinner party, while the next you’ll be wondering just how exactly you found your way into someone else’s twisted nightmare. The balance between hyper reality and the absurd is carefully navigated, and nothing is what it seems.
Duffy’s talent lies in bringing the audience along for the ride. We are included in the discovery process, jumping to conclusions as the character do, and quickly finding out we are wrong. The intimate feel of the theatre works to Ordinary Darkness’s advantage; we could almost be fellow squatters at the derelict mansion, silent flatmates observing our fellow occupants.
Robertson’s painting of these characters is excellent. She reveals to us just what we need to know and nothing more, feeding us tantalising pieces of information. Not one of the characters can be described as wholly innocent or wholly responsible for the events, and in these flawed characters we see pieces of ourselves emerge – although (hopefully) not to the same ends.
At times the flow can feel somewhat clunky, and the focus falls on the characters internal struggles rather than the wider issues they face. At one point, the characters don full-faced masks, making the process of deciphering the dialogue hard work.
Ordinary Darkness will leave you with more questions than you can answer, and feel all the more enlightened for doing so.
This originally appeared in the Australian Times in November 2012. Unfortunately, Ordinary Darkness finished its run at The Hen and Chickens Theatre on 1 December. Still, better late than never!