Dark Room is a devilishly complex, thrilling piece of theatre that captures the audience’s attention and does not let it go. The piece, written and directed by Tom Proffitt, is a stunning piece of work. In the span of an hour, we are taken on a rollercoaster ride with the lone character, known simply as the ‘Filmaker’, as he smokes his way through three cigarettes and a spectrum of negative emotion.
When thinking of a ‘dark room’ the first thing that springs to mind, personally, is that of a room used in photography for developing film. All the walls are painted black deliberately to let in no light – rather fitting for the general emotional tenor of Proffitt’s play. There is nothing optimistic about the play, the only jokes drip with cynicism and a self-loathing irony. Ted Marriott, as the ‘Filmaker’ gives a stellar performance, one which is convincing stylized as it is terrifyingly real.
He portrays a man filled with pent-up rage, terror, loathing, narcissism and bitterness, who suffers from hallucinations, delirium and nervous fits. The ‘filmaker’ is a broken and used man, who begs the audience for hate as much as he does love. The first line breaks the fourth wall – the audience seemingly take on the role of his ‘imaginary friends’, who are alluded to throughout the play. The entire play is a sort of extended dialogue as opposed to being an extended monologue; there is no doubt that each loaded word that comes out of Marriott’s mouth is directed specifically at the audience.
“He portrays a man filled with pent-up rage, terror, loathing, narcissism and bitterness, who suffers from hallucinations, delirium and nervous fits”
Proffitt himself describes the play as ‘explor[ing] the apparent everyday frustrations of being an artist’ and he has definitely kept true to his word. Had the ‘Dark Room’ been a film, it would have been described as film noir. Indeed, a driving force of the plot is the ‘Filmaker’s’ occupation, which is utilised as a springboard for exploring a spectrum of issues including delusion, superficiality, obsession, trauma and perhaps most importantly hypocrisy. This also allows for the clever incorporation of visual aids for the audience, provided courtesy of Dominic Howlett, and which makes one feel almost as though we are peering into the mind of the character, seeing what he visualises and giving the audience an even deeper sense of connection to the play.
In one particularly memorable scene, Marriott lights a candle, before using the candle’s flame to light his cigarette while the stage lights are dimmed. After the brief moment of serenity that follows (the only one within the play), he taunts the audience at how they bought his deception – he controlled the light and thus what they saw.
“With a play that had to be carried by a single character, lighting was crucial to bolster the theatrical atmosphere”
Lighting is not the only theatrical device utilised in the play, though it must be mentioned that Sam Osborne did a fantastic job as lighting designer. With a play that had to be carried by a single character, lighting was crucial to bolster the theatrical atmosphere. It would be fair to say that this work encompasses a series of deliberate, calculated and measured actions; everything in this play is a form of symbolism, even the ‘Filmaker’ himself. In fact, as the show progresses and one begins to better grasp the play, even the seemingly carelessly littered cigarettes on the stage-floor seem to have been deliberately placed, as do the shredded smithereens of film and garbage that lay waste.
It is important to bear in mind that the ‘Dark Room’ is a highly subjective work. It does contain very emotionally intense scenes, at points capable of breeding a sense of discomfort in the viewer – there eventually is a temptation to heed Marriott’s advice each time he haughtily dares the audience to leave. Dark Room has created a space filled with no metaphorical light, and to quote the ‘Filmaker’ loosely, ‘this is not like one of those movies you watch a Christmas on loop to make you feel… happy’.
“Dark Room is perverse and disturbing, but gets away as a beautiful piece of work that stimulates the morbid fascination within us all”
For those who are interested in viewing Dark Room, be warned that an open-mind is required to appreciate the true depth of the piece. Had the play gone on longer than it had, this would have turned out to be a very different, much more negative review, but that goes to show just how well-written this piece is. Proffitt adeptly ends the play just before it goes across the line to becoming an overly stereotypical portrayal of a particularly clichéd type of suicidal, mentally unstable artist. Dark Room is perverse and disturbing, but gets away as a beautiful piece of work that stimulates the morbid fascination within us all.
Claire Elizabeth Seah
‘Dark Room’ is running at Nottingham New Theatre until Tuesday 24th November, for more information see here.