At the Wardrobe Theatre, from Tuesday 21st to Thursday 23nd February 2017, Niall Potter sent out his adaption and interpretation of Wolfram Lotz’s ‘The Ridiculous Darkness’ into the world. And the world was caught at a bar afterwards, frowning into a can of red stripe, not knowing if they were ready for such an entrancing, surreal production. It was a fine example of absurdist theatre. It captured the feeling associated with this style: Sharp, nonsensical humour, followed by the soft embrace of an existential crisis. In this case, hearty laughs followed by an uncomfortable darkness. In a good way.
I cannot even begin to explain the plot; but this play is worth watching. The interpretation was excellent; the lines very visual. The performers had no trouble in getting the audience to suspend their disbelief. It's not hard not to imagine its German playwright, Wolfram Lotz would be impressed with this UK debut.
The whole cast made for a very slick ensemble, and few mistakes were made. When they were, they were dealt with professionally, and with humour. The overall performance was extraordinary, and the cast must be commended on their teamwork. Able to engage the audience with difficult concepts through visual collective action.
The lighting, set, costume and sound worked very cohesively; all were simple, effective and inventive. We were fully immersed. Issac Lawrence-Thompson’s Foley sounds were ingenious, and added extra entertainment. The lighting was used to convey mood and time of day simultaneously. It was better kept simple, since there were times when too much flickering got a little distracting.
The style and direction of the production was very strong overall, but because of this, weaker moments were highlighted. The pace of each individual scene was varied, comedy timing and delivery was satisfying for most scenes, though not always consistent. Amongst the clever, unpredictable jokes, (the church of ABBA, and a monologue about ‘being paid to put things in orifices’ were the favourites) there were a few disappointingly obvious ones.
Some of the boat scenes may have benefited from being cut shorter and choreographed more precisely- as although the aim of the production was to present chaos,- there were moments, particularly towards the end, that the chaos and humour detracted from its poignancy.Ultimately, the duo of Teja Boocock and Thomy Lawson stood out as soldiers Pellmer and Dorsch, for their ability to portray such a versatile range of emotion. A boat journey into the darkest depth of the psyche is no easy feat, but these two carried us there- even while holding up the ‘acting paradox’ that showed a breakdown in coherence and identity - while keeping characterisation constant. It was very well done.
While on the subject of paradox, I come to the subject of paratext. Marketing for this production told us to ‘be shocked and confused’ and yet, I felt ‘The Ridiculous Darkness’ was ‘not all that ridiculous after all’- to quote the dramaturg’s notes. To me, though the plot was odd, it was clear. Perhaps there needed to be more faith in the audience, or in the production? Or perhaps it could have been pushed further into surrealism? Despite this criticism, there was an ‘unknown’ in this experience which was left successfully uncovered. The audience will be discussing it for hours afterwards, or staring at their ceilings, unable to sleep. And the rating?
To quote the character, Dorsch: 'I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know'
Normal stars and half stars do not do this unusual play justice.
So to conclude: somewhere between 3.76 and 4.48 out of 5.