The Dark Room, Theatre 503
Written by Angela Betzien
Directed by Audrey Sheffield
Despite living in South West London all my life, I had never been to Theatre503 so imagine my delight in finding this friendly intimate theatre practically on my doorstep – a very similar space to one of my favourite pub theatres, The Hope Theatre in Islington. I think the venue was integral to the storytelling, as this IS a complex story, flitting back and forth in time and with some delicate intricacies playing out between the sub-plots.
In such an intimate space, the direction and the acting needed to be spot-on, and mostly delivered. I loved the close proximity of the actors to each other cutting across the layers of the play, adding to the suspense, while each of the actors managed to keep the focus on the individual stories. At one point I wanted to physically move the bullying Craig away from the ranting pregnant Emma as she was confronting her husband with some difficult truths.
On that note, Fiona Skinner played a blinder as Emma, the uncomfortably pregnant, disillusioned mum-to-be, challenging the usual stereotypes of what pregnancy is meant to feel like. She’d have been welcome in my ante-natal group. I could see a woman with great intent, who felt devastated she couldn’t “make a difference” for the children at her school. This feels very relevant in London today as, sadly, I am hearing a similar story from people leaving the profession for just that reason.
The theme of motherhood came through very clearly to me, though I am not sure if that was my interpretation or was a conscious effort by the writer. When 14 year old Grace announced “I’m having a baby”, my heart lurched. How on earth could such a damaged child, with such a warped view of love and relationships, manage to care for another person? Luckily she was vocalising her wishes for the future, but her comments about her previous encounter with a baby filled me with dread and concern for that baby and the future – did she hurt it or not? Would she ever be emotionally well enough to experience motherhood? This, I thought was extremely well played scene by Katy Brittain and Annabel Smith.
I came away feeling touched by the sadness of the treatment of the children and the lack of protection they were given, and what horrific damage it did to them. As the play progressed I also became acutely aware of the impact of some of the people in the caring and protecting roles. They too had witnessed appalling sights, and had experienced life-changing events that shaped their behaviours.
In this bleak landscape there were moments of humour, my favourite being the John Cleese-esque dance around the bed from the drunken Stephen, and his quick look over his shoulder at a critical passionate moment, showing where his loyalties lay (at the nightclub with his friends).
The Dark Room is a cleverly written piece of theatre, which looks well directed. I’m not sure I’d call it a thriller – there was nothing that scared me enough for that classification – but it did remind me in places of The Inspector Calls, in the way the stories interlink and unravel as the play develops. I wasn’t entirely convinced that the ghost appearances added to the play and it does take some concentration to keep up with the plot, but I think that is one reason I’d recommend it, should you be up for a bit of a challenge.
The Dark Room is on until the 2nd December at Theatre503, The Latchmere, 503 Battersea Park Road, London SW11 3BW, https://theatre503.com/
Tickets are available priced £15 (£12 concessions)
Pay What You Can, Saturday matinees Available from Theatre503 Box Office and https://theatre503.com/, 020 7978 7040.