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The Dark Room
IO Performance

April 19th, 2023

Our first offering from IO Performance for 2023 is Angela Betzien’s tense, neo-noir thriller The Dark Room. Set inside the confines of a small rundown motel in a remote section of the Northern Territory The Dark Room tells simultaneous stories of six different characters who at one time resided within the walls of the same motel room. Betzien’s play is a 75-minute roller coaster of desperation, which examines the costs of institutional abuse present in foster care and the police force in remote parts of Australia. This dark and candid script knits together three separate scenes concisely, in a fine example of contemporary surrealist and post dramatic theatre. Important shared dialogue is spoken in sync with other members of the ensemble, and when all six characters are sharing the same space, it successfully tinkers with the audience’s perception of the time of the play’s events.


The small but strong cast of six perform solidly as an ensemble, each actor gives a selfless performance which ensures that each actor has the opportunity to rise with the show and build their co-stars each to a complete performance.  


Ant Butchart gave possibly a career best performance as Senior Constable Craig and Imogen Storm’s Grace showcased all the skills she has acquired over the last few years working predominantly in film.

Butchart executed what could be a potentially counter-intuitive portrayal of Craig. Butchart’s regular exuberance and abundance that are quite often seen in his comedic turns, were here squashed and the character of Craig, that could have very easily fallen into stereotype, was subdued and miniscule. Having this big personality character take up such a small amount of stage area, enabled the audience to feel more captivated into his plight and piqued our curiosity about this troubled soul. Imogen Storm has a profound magnetism while on stage, and in this case she was able to encapsulate the spirit and energy of a troubled youth through her mannerisms and body work. It was superbly professional work, though my one question of her performance was whether the distinctly childlike vocal tone was in fact a necessary means for the audience to understand her age.  It felt that her voice was at times in direct opposition to her mannerisms, costume and energy, which felt more mature than the age her voice implied, but this minor quibble didn’t inhibit my enjoyment of her performance by any means.


Jade Howard as Grace’s scene partner Anni, a support worker looking after the young girls that are placed into foster care, performs the role with kindness and tenderness, but enough hard-edged ferocity to maintain control. Jade has always been a regular performer in the musical theatre scene in Launceston but isn’t as regularly seen demonstrating her array of intelligence and emotion in “straight theatre.” Thank goodness for IO and giving Jade more opportunities to be on stage, because her talents as an actor can sometimes be overshadowed by her profound talent as a musician.

Leigh Oswin and Caitlin McCarthy had a wonderful dynamic as the married couple, Oswin putting in one of his best performances as the cantankerous, drunk and bigoted husband and local cop.  Oswin shines when he has larger than life characters to play that lend themselves well to his loud and boisterous energy. However, the light and shade in this role was more defined than in previous performances because the relationship dynamics changed dramatically depending on the person he interacted with. He is a dominant, manipulative and abusive character around Mcarthy’s Emma, yet he becomes as shy and timid as Emma, when he is confronted with Craig (Butchart). This relationship works really well, as Butchart, whose demeanour so far has been quite small, is here shown as a larger and more controlling character than the loudest guy in the room.


Caitlin McCarthy once again proves to be one of Launceston’s most consistently good performers, as whenever McCarthy takes to the stage, there is subtlety, humility, and compassion in what is a brilliantly naturalistic performance. While this was again the case for Emma, it did feel at times that her character sometimes got lost in the shadows of the bigger characters around her. There were a number of moments where McCarthy was left in the back corner, which turned out to be the least powerful position on the stage. Rounding out the ensemble was relative newcomer to the stage, Nelson Clay, who took on one of the bravest roles in the show and did an upstanding job, as his gait and physique played brilliantly against the shadows affected by the simple lighting design from Chris Jackson. I wasn’t entirely sold on the choice of costume however, as it appeared more to be an attempt at creating a ghostly image than it was a representation of the character.


Emerging director Shawna Collins must be commended for what was very unobtrusive direction throughout. Stripping back from too many flashy technical achievements, this show crackled along at a great pace and never let go of its grasp on the audience throughout. This clarity of vision let the actors have the room to tell us a story, without feeling the momentum slip at any moment via lengthy scene changes. The set design was a key element in helping this; as it was set in only one room, but by covering the space in sand was a simple and effective representation of location, and I only wish that there was some way to have made the whole space feel warmer, as that would have immersed me in the setting fully.

The Dark Room is an important observation of so many issues that are still prevalent in rural communities, that at many times go unnoticed or ignored. A quote from the director’s notes eloquently and succinctly summed up the major problem this play has to answer. “Is the bliss that follows ignorance really worth the weight of its guilt?” This is a play that continues the conversations that are at times swept under the carpet by shouldering the burden of our ignorance in the face of institutional abuse and asks us to sit up and pay attention. And pay attention we do.


Review By Matt Taylor

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