An old man caught in a routine that sees the same actions repeated each and every day: he wakes, he gets his slippers, makes coffee, drinks coffee, he repeats, again and again. Caught in this routine, he lingers over past memories of his wife as the coffee brings images that flash before his eyes.
Witness Theatre, in their first production with The Darkroom, show an imaginative and inventive style to performance making. Written and directed by Ellen Carr, this piece takes inspiration from Beckett’s fragmented writings and the playful qualities of Complicite’s theatre making. It’s not quite perfect – there is a real need for dramaturgical support – but as a first piece it is bold and adventurous, and where better to showcase such an experiment than at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
The fragmented nature of the narrative and performance text make a challenge for performers and adults alike, but within this glimpses of real potential can be seen. The constant repetition of routines, both vocalised and physicalised, create a fragmented performance, where the holding onto memories is given a priority against the slippery slope of the brain losing them. There are post-it notes with memories categorised by weather and emotions, and as the old man lingers in his shed staring repeatedly at these notes, we are reminded of the fragility of the mind. One of our most powerful tools within the body, and yet, as time goes by, one of the hardest to maintain. Whilst this tragedy of disappearing mind is never really realised in The Darkroom, it underlines the piece as a whole.
There are some wonderful projections that are interwoven with the performers. Scenes of times gone by appear projected on bodies or books, before taking shape on the walls of the space. The black and white films offer glimpses into the unknown – the intangible memories that slip and slide from us so easily. If The Darkroom suffers from one thing, it is the overwhelming amount of ideas and mediums that are used in its brief performance time. With projections, physical movement, microphones, audience partipication – without even touching on the fragmented and Beckettian script that appears and dissolves from the performers – The Darkroom is bursting with potential. If only it would be more refined and pinned down.
For a first piece, though, the potential is clear and Carr’s writing is certainly inspiring. There is much to be done, but with a committed and engaging cast, and some imaginative qualities, The Darkroom offers a glimpse into an imaginative performance.
*** – 3/5 stars
The Darkroom is playing at C nova as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 27 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.