“God died this century and we needed something to replace him. We chose celebrity. Ask anyone to name five people, living or dead, to have dinner with. No one chooses their mum.” Thus Daniel Dingsdale’s new play Dark Tourism at the Park Theatre bites back at society’s hunger for fame and publicity. It is a mouthful of darkly witty commentary on the degrading public morality of today and bluntly asks if what you see is really what you get. Like a manifesto, its aggressive tone hits you in the centre and certainly stirs a myriad of thoughts. But it does have a feel of a writer’s production and lacks some character depth and truth in what is essentially the debate of the selfie generation.
When a DJ overshares his sexual exploits with a children’s television presenter on air, her life tumbles into ruin. Her PR company has to pick up the pieces, but when dealing with a variety of celebrities all hungry for their turn in the spotlight, is it possible to divert the media from ripping their lives apart? Is any publicity good publicity?
As the popularity of reality TV seems to grow like a racing helium balloon, the debate flares as to whether “being real” on TV is actually a thing, and to what extent we revel in other people’s shortcomings on national TV. We seem to get off on the idea of someone being more stupid, more irresponsible and more unlucky than us, blown up on a big screen for everyone’s amusement. And as Dingsdale so rightly asks in his new play – if we need to laugh at other people’s expense to feel better about ourselves, have we really learnt anything since public stoning?
So far so good. Dingsdale’s play brims with provoking and thoughtful ideas, giving the hunt for celebrity and its caricatures a violent kick in the face. But though it inspires an important debate, it does seem like a writer’s rant – all characters are stereotypes and almost resemble cartoons in their simplicity. This is the way we see celebrities in reality perhaps, however as a performance it lacks some character depth, exploring what drives these people and what makes them human. We see the characters’ personas – who they want us to see – but we are missing glimpses of who they really are. Because of this, moments of dramatic brilliance come off as clichéd – perhaps intentional to show us the ridiculousness of the world of these people, but nevertheless a little frustratingly simple at times.
Director Adam Lenson makes sure the piece is dynamic and constantly evolving, which keeps the beat pushing forward, throwing us around in the chaos of the argument like a ball in a school yard. Max Blackman’s lighting and Mike Thacker’s sound is an exhilarating combination and the play’s energy never drops. Josie Dunn’s wronged children’s TV presenter Becky especially keeps the emotional investment in flow, with Rebecca Brewer’s hilariously cynical Caroline in opposition. Though they feel like modern stock characters the actors all invest in them, and though the play seems to be more about the writer’s intention and voice it is a performance that will raise some important questions. With a little more depth this play could go on to have a powerful voice in a media world that needs a wake-up call.
Dark Tourism is playing at the Park Theatre until 24 October. For tickets and more information see the Park Theatre website. Photo: Oli Sones.