Theatre Reviews for Darkness



Darkness – review 

With so much devised work and puppetry on the fringe, the proper play is beginning to look like an endangered species. But here's a good meaty one, written by Jonathan Lichtenstein whose excellent The Pull of Negative Gravity was seen at the Traverse five years ago. There are structural and narrative reasons why this isn't so strong, but it has plenty going for it: it's gripping, atmospheric and quite superbly acted, and it charts the madness of religious fundamentalism and the terrible cost of that madness. There's also a brilliant riff on prawn cocktail-flavoured crisps.
Lichtenstein and director Gari Jones pile on the atmosphere, cleverly lead us around a few forest false trails, and bring the bubbling violence to a dramatic climax. The actors flesh out the occasionally missing subtext in the script, and while this may not be a great play, it's an urgent one that keeps you right on the edge of your seat.

The Scotsman ★★★
"…a strong work which combines good performances with a compelling scenario”


"Gripping portrait of religious fundamentalism"
by Christopher Adams for remotegoat on 19/08/11
Darkness, a new play by Jonathan Lichtenstein, is a full-bodied, devastating exploration of religious fundamentalism in a tight-knit family. In rural Wales, a family prepares to celebrate Ascension Day, the day Jesus was said to have been taken up into Heaven. The father, Huw (David Tarkenter), who operates a tree-clearing business, believes he is hearing the voice of God. Carol (Barbara Peirson), the mother, is still mourning her missing son Ollie (Nathan Wright), who left the family 'nine months and eight days' ago after a violent 'accident'. One of three sons, Dan (Joshua Hayes), is increasingly disturbed by his hyper-masculine, patriarchal environment. Daughter Caitlyn (Emma Jane Connell) is nervously trying to introduce her Croatia-born boyfriend Yann (Kieran Knowles) to the family. Yann's presence angers brother Tony (Jamie Wallwork), who also hears the voice of God, but whose feelings for his sister are not wholly brotherly.

With such a well-seeded set-up, Lichtenstein splendidly serves up organically-grown conflict. He allows the scenes to play out, slowly building up tension. Character motivations are, for the most part, fully fleshed (though Ollie's strange passivity could use tweaking). What comes across best is the suffocating nature of this hermetically sealed world. Caitlyn's actions are constantly scrutinized by her family; she becomes livid when Yann suggests they have an alcoholic drink--the consequences of her family finding out would be too devastating. Director Gari Jones effectively conveys the closed, brutal world the characters inhabit. Several chainsaws populate the stage, along with a shotgun and flammable liquids. Much-needed comic relief arrives in a family discussion about potato crisps. The scene is a precise, funny look at the family's dynamic.

Though the Welsh accents at times must be taken on faith, the acting is uniformly strong. Tarkenter delivers a gripping performance as the overbearing, troubled Huw. Wallwork's Tony is a forest fire ready to ignite with a single spark; he is wracked with self-hatred over his incestuous feelings for his sister. Hayes's Dan becomes a leading voice of reason against his brothers' and father's decent into fanaticism.

From its antagonistic opening to its heavy conclusion, Darkness is a dramatically satisfying, aggressive story. Strong writing and acting make this a must-see.


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I was captivated by Jonathan Lichtenstein's sombre new play Darkness (Zoo Roxy), about a family of Welsh fundamentalist loggers uneasily awaiting Rapture together in the woods. But, wow, when one of the characters in this lunchtime production whipped out a vacuum flask and started dishing out a steaming stew to the rest of the cast, I'd not yet had anything to eat and half-wished myself one of this unhappy family of extremists just to get a mouthful.


Fringe Review
Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Darkness ★★★

Low Down: Jonathan Lichtenstein's new play delves into the dangers of religious fundamentalism as an immigrant muslim worker disturbs a family of foresters in darkest Wales.
Review: Jonathan Lichtenstein's last play on the Fringe, The Pull of Negative Gravity about the devastating effect on a Welsh family of their son returning home injured from the Iraq War, deservedly won a Fringe First in 2004.  For some reason his 2007 play, Memory, went straight from Clwyd to New York, missing out Edinburgh in between.  His new play, Darkness, played to a modestly sized audience on the day I caught it in the slightly cramped stage of Zoo Roxy's loft space, but it deserves much a bigger house and stage.

In a forest somewhere in Wales, Huw is the rather eccentric uptight head of a family of foresters.  His two sons Dan the sensible and Tony the obvious nutjob both tease him for buying snakeskin boots on eBay which he believes were Cliff Richard's but both sons are obedient to their father's dominating will.  Huw's other son, Ollie, some time ago fled the nest because of him. Huw's wife is concerned that it's starting again. 
Into the madness comes Yann, a Croatian labourer taking the best job he can get.  Yann's advances towards Huw's daughter, Caitlyn, have not been unsuccessful. 
The tension rises rapidly, for both Huw and his son Tony have been hearing the voice of God and believe they have been called to induce the Rapture and the immigrant is somehow involved. And today is Ascension Day.  And to ratchet the tension further, the prodigal son returns with an aura of terrible calm.  He clearly has a plan and you just know this is not going to end well. 

Darkness is a study on a domestic scale of the danger that the absolute certainty born of religious fundamentalism bestows on authority figures.  There is something very American about the play, in the woodland setting, the dramatic web of family ties and in the mindsets of its characters (belief in the Rapture is massive in the U.S. but very much a minority insanity in the U.K.) 
The play rips along to an intense if slightly predictable climax, driven by the stand-out performances of David Tarkenter as Huw and Jamie Wallwork as Tony who are both fully committed to being convincingly demented, Jamie Wallwork in particular carrying off some brilliant over-acting (which I mean as a compliment - it is one of the strongest way-out-on-a-limb performances I have seen this year). 
Darkness makes a strong impression, but somehow doesn't quite hang together completely.  It works a bit too hard at saying something and there are quite a few logical inconsistencies which leave the actors at times rather exposed.  Nevertheless it is a provocative and powerful play and very well worth seeing.

Reviewed by George Dillon 16 August 2011 



The biggest reviewer at the Edinburgh Festival

Darkness ★★★
tw rating 4/5 
Lakeside Theatre / University of Essex / Escalator East To Edinburgh
This intricate, fast-paced piece explores the nature of sacrifice and the boundary between faith and madness, ultimately leaving the audience with a set unanswered questions. Tensions simmer as a family gathers to celebrate Ascension Day on a remote hillside, their motivations and relationships are at times ambiguous and contradictory, as exasperation fuels sexual desire and violence is justified as spiritual guidance. Potential weapons and cringingly provocative comments stack up with improbable speed. Whilst this stoking of suspense feels unsubtle at times, it is certainly effective, and the characters' myriad complexities and alienating unpredictability make any outcome seem possible. As a result, the dénouement leaves a deep sense of unease, more troubling, thought provoking and lingering than any desired catharsis.
Zoo Roxy, 5 – 29 (not 15, 22), 3.30pm (4.55pm), £8.00 - £10.00, fpp253.
tw rating 4/5

ED FRINGE 2011: Darkness – Zoo Roxy

Reviewer: Melissa Rynn

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★½ 

Based on religious fundamentalism, Darkness; a new play by Jonathan Lichtenstein and directed by Gari Jones, is amazingly apt given recent occurrences across the globe. It concentrates on complete belief in rapture by God, and the danger religious extremism of this level can bring. The story concentrates on a deeply religious family who celebrate ascension night in the woods each year. They are joined on this occasion by the return of their prodigal son Ollie, and the immigrant worker Yann who has fallen for the family’s daughter.
Even within the complex issues the play explores, the family is utterly believable with small bickerings over flavours of crisps and purchases bought on eBay, and the entire cast are strong throughout. Nathan Wright as prodigal son Ollie and Jamie Wallwork as Tony are particularly harrowing, while David Tarkenter’s religiously intense Huw is striking. The entire cast shows strong conviction in their work with complete understanding of the issues at hand, presenting a story well thought out and with compassion.
The set, lighting, and sound design work in perfect harmony to create a visually stunning and atmospheric woodland setting for the story. Along with the staging, the design creates an air of tension that remains throughout and builds to a climax as the religious extremism takes wind and the play progresses.
Stories of the religious fundamentalism are bound to be ripe after the widely broadcast Harold Camping incident earlier this year but, as the recent Norway happenings show us, they are always relevant. Darkness is a well-presented piece that investigates dangerous issues in a captivating way. Lichtenstein’s play is a triumph and the production, strong.


Festmag ★★★★

By Jonathan Holmes 

It’s Ascension Day, and a reverent family of Welsh lumberjacks await the apocalypse. Their vigil is interrupted by two arrivals: one, a lost son, the other, an immigrant and atheist. With Darkness, Fringe First winner Jonathan Lichtenstein explores religious fundamentalism, asking why God always seems to demand we sacrifice our family. Lichtenstein intelligently synthesises Bible stories and wrenching family drama. He mostly resists didacticism, keeping the focus on Earthly matters and Earthly consequences. The proclamations and chainsaw-swinging testosterone are undercut by bathetic humour: apocalyptic prophecies interrupted by arguments about crisps and eBay.
The cast are assured. They all have to shout an awful lot, and quote a fair amount of scripture, but you believe they are a family. This authenticity is vital, making you realise this isn’t about religion so much as how people wield it over others. David Tarkenter deserves particular praise as the patriarch and would-be prophet, but each actor brings their own, unspoken stories to their characters.
Indeed, Darkness is at its best when dealing with the unseen and unsaid. Some of its more on-the-nose elements rankle. The returning, bearded son could do with looking less messianic and initially, Yann the Muslim immigrant doesn’t register properly, partly due to an unconvincing accent. The play's programme listing also includes misleading references to George W Bush, an example of mission creep that the play doesn’t need and can’t support.
But these are minor complaints. Overall, this is a disturbing examination of the sins of a father, and how he inflicts them on his sons.


Kieran from The Good Review interviews Joshua Hayes (Dan) during rehearsals.

Joshua Hayes is currently rehearsing the Lakeside Theatre’s new production of Darkness a new play by fringe first winning writer Jonathan Lichtenstein. The production will be performed throughout the Edinburgh festival at the Zoo Roxy’s loft venue and Josh recently took the time out of his rehearsals on Essex University campus to answer a few questions for us about the project.
Alright Josh?
Now then Kieran lad!
What can you tell us about Darkness?
It’s a brilliant new play, by a fantastic writer, brought to the stage by visionary director Gari Jones, and features a superb ensemble cast. If I may say so myself!
High Praise! What’s it about?
Its about a family in Wales, and their relationship with religion and how it affects their relationships with each other. It is quite dark and sinister, as you’d imagine from the title, but has some funny and moving moments which balance it out nicely.
Is it exciting being at the start of a new project?
Absolutely! The source material is brilliant, Jonathan [Lichtenstein] has given us a really strong platform to build on. We were lucky enough to have had a rehearsed reading at Pulse festival a few weeks ago and the positive reaction from the audience has helped fuel the excitement surrounding the project. Also its quite a relevant subject given our ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and things like Harold Camping’s recent predictions about the date of the Rapture.
How are the rehearsals going?
So far very good, we are in the process of getting it up on its feet. I think the cast and I are just enjoying finding the characters and exploring the relationships. We as a cast are getting on great, and the relaxed atmosphere in the room makes the process so much more fulfilling. Whats interesting about the play is that a lot of the fractures in the relationships occur before the start of it and the period in which the piece takes place is when everything comes to a head.
You’ve been to Edinburgh before, how will this trip compare to the last?
It makes me even more excited if I’m honest. Because when I went before I was still a student and I didn’t really know what it was all about, and now I know what to expect I am looking forward to it even more. I managed to see some great things at the Zoo Roxy last time as well and I am now really excited to be performing there myself.