I wasn't quite convinced by immersive theatre gurus Sound&Fury's last show, the smash hit submarine drama 'Kursk'. It was darned impressive being plunged into a mocked-up British nuclear vessel. But the Boy's Own-ish script was so chokka with stiff upper lips and Our Boys cliches, it wouldn't have been surprising if it had ended with a chorus of 'Jerusalem'.
For follow up 'Going Dark', the company have taken the opposite tack, and what a lovely, subtle, moving show this is. The sturm und drang of 'Kursk' is absent in a haunting chamber piece which takes place in total darkness and faint pools of light.
The audio and visual trickery is first rate, but tellingly the play's soul lies in Hattie Naylor's beautifully understated text and actor Jon Mackay's delicate, heartbreaking performance as Max, a single dad attempting to come to terms with a rapid degeneration in his eyesight.
Max works at a planetarium, giving talks on the wonders of a rapidly expanding universe just as his own world is shrinking drastically. The sense of his impending severance from the infinite is deeply affecting, but handled with wit: 'Fucking Vangelis!?' snorts Max upon hearing the backing music for a guide to the stars he had pre-recorded; then he falls silent with anger and shame as he discovers a voiceover artist has replaced his halting attempts to read the script.
The real magic here comes not from the projected panoply of stars, but the uncredited voice actor playing Max's son Leo. Naylor's ear for the non sequitur-laden logic of childhood is hilariously dead-on and the young thesp delivers her words brilliantly, his recorded voice bouncing about the room, just behind our heads.
At first the lack of a visible, present actor feels like a cute gimmick; but as the veil begins to descend upon Max's vision, his son's physical absence becomes devastatingly palpable.
There are weighty themes here, but 'Going Dark' has a lightness of touch that prevents it becoming overwrought. Late on Max begins to hallucinate, suffering from a condition called Charles Bonnet Syndrome, but it is gently sketched, Sound&Fury resisting the temptation to turn this into a horror show.
Human to the end, 'Going Dark' ends on a low-key, ambivalent note, Max stepping out uncertainly into the garden he can no longer see.
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