views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Darker the Night
The Hen and Chickens
2nd August 2014


Photography provided by Sibling Productions

When it comes to doing the right thing, sometimes you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. And sometimes you have to join a cult. Or least, pretend to. In Eliza Power's new play, Darker the Night, two private investigators (one played by Power herself) find themselves drawn into a strange community in a bid to find a missing 13-year-old girl.

Rebecca (Power) suspects that cult leader Jacob (Otis Waby) is responsible for the young girl's disappearance. With the promise of a £50,000 reward split two ways, fellow detective-for-hire Gabriel (John-Jack Baldwin) reluctantly goes undercover with her, the two of them becoming "James" and "Rebecca", a nice, normal, married couple who are willing to join the cult and push out babies to sustain the reclusive community.

The script can best be described as a thriller. It keeps us engaged all the way through, looking out for the next breadcrumb thrown to us by Power, and attempting to piece all the clues together. Scenes often end abruptly, with total blackouts - it feels a little sharp, but with only a 60 minute slot available, this is perhaps a necessary way of propelling the action forwards and keeping the pace up. The ethereal filler music which links the scenes isn't perhaps as mysterious as envisaged, rather it gives off a rather tired 80s vibe.

With that said, director Tessa Hart does however successfully invest a lot of time in the finer detail. As the action unfolds in the foreground, the other actors still on stage are used to great effect. As Layla (Alisa James Morris) preaches the word, we can clock Rebecca and Gabriel exchanging glances, trying to suppress fits of giggles. When Rebecca and Jacob share a moment, we catch Layla staring daggers at the other woman, her growing jealousy palpable. Power's script is constructed well, but Hart reinforces it with plenty of little but carefully considered touches.

A lot of dark themes and ideas are explored in this play. When it comes to missing children, whether or not we are parents ourselves, an instinctive fear is awakened. Throw cults into the mix and although we desperately want to find out the truth, we're almost scared to see where Power is taking us. Hart does however bring some lightness to the piece, with the complicated relationship between Rebecca and Gabriel allowing for some very dry and funny humour. The two characters balance out each other, with Gabriel tightly-wound and impulsive, and Rebecca far calmer - until he pushes all her buttons, the way only he knows how. The chemistry between the two is very believable, with Power and Baldwin successfully establishing a frustrating "will-they-won't-they?" dynamic which lasts far longer than we want it to, much in the vein of early Lois and Clark.

There's a suggestion of something truly mystical at work and this puts me in mind of The Ninth Gate. However, Power was probably aiming at something a bit more recent and less fictional. Early on, Gabriel bemoans, "As we all know, the police don't care too much about girls of Zoe's ilk." It has been said that the law enforcement authorities and media only devote time to missing girls with blonde hair and blue eyes, and with Hart linked to an activist theatre company, the damning way in which the line is delivered does make it feel like Gabriel is being used as a mouthpiece for a more political statement.

A brief hint of politics doesn't take away from the characterisation. The leads are well-rounded, with a clear backstory for our protagonists that slowly seeps into the main plot, helping us to better understand their motivations. Layla and David (Tim Carey-Jones) are underused, but such is the nature of a fringe-length production. Still, they provide able support, there aren't any weak links as far as the acting goes.

Darker The Night is a well-written piece, delivered with style by a cast and crew who clearly get Power's vision. An intriguing new play.

Darker the Night opened on 1st August and runs until 3rd August 2014 at the Hen and Chickens, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)

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