Saturday, 28 February 2009

With The Dark, Feb 28, 2009 **1/2

With The Dark by James Adler
Eagles Nest Theatre Northcote Town Hall, Feb 25 to March 7, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **1/2

The first half of With The Dark, by James Adler, is a play about a writer struggling to overcome depression and lack of confidence. In the second half it transforms into a different play – an allegorical, Grimm-style fairytale.

Rosemary Johns directs this production with an emphasis on the comical elements, despite it being about the black dog of depression and the dark inner reaches of the human psyche. James Shaw is Mann, the young, angst-ridden writer who doubts his talent, his life choices and his sanity. Shaw has a strong raw energy but performs with a little too much stress and anxiety, causing him to shout and sweat more than is comfortable.

Mann tumbles often into bed to sleep and avoid his psychic angst but is haunted by his inner ghosts (Alicia Benn-Lawler, Joanne Davis) that lurk under his bed. The most telling and possibly interesting characters is the Voice (Geoff Wallis) who lounges around Mann’s home, sipping tea and mouthing cheerful platitudes and making optimistic suggestions. Wallis delighted the audience with his wry humour, deft comic timing and surprising choices with what is sometimes limiting dialogue.

Then we embark on the allegorical hero’s journey into the dreamlike, dark forest where Mann encounters a wacky, royal court (think Alice in Wonderland) with a very funny and pompous, accented King (Phil Zachariah) and a roller-skating Queen (Belinda Di Vito). Mann must help a lost child (Davis) find her grandma (Benn-Lawler) who was taken by the wicked dark beast. Wallis, wearing a loud shirt and jokey devil’s horns and looking like a Las Vegas comedian, balances menace and comedy as the beast-demon.

At times Adler’s dialogue becomes florid or predictable but the production is engaging and entertaining. The self-referential story about a writer struggling to find his art does not break new ground but it keeps us interested.

By Kate Herbert

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