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‘The Darkest Part of the Night’ review

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
The Darkest Part of the Night, Kiln Theatre, 2022
Photo by Tristram KentonLee Philips and Nadia Williams

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Heartfelt epic about a Black brother and sister’s lifelong contention with systematic racism

Hold tight: as the title of Zodwa Nyoni’s new play suggests, this is a dark one. At their mother’s funeral, Black siblings Dwight and Shirley recall memories from a childhood spent in Chapeltown, Leeds in the 1980s. At home with their parents, their family lived through hard times. They had poverty, racism and Dwight’s undiagnosed autism to contend with - but even as we see them push and pull against each other, there is also a collective struggle to survive in a world that wasn’t built in their favour.

The mammoth ideas in Nyoni’s play aren’t always written with enough nuance. As adults, the spats between Shirley and her partner Calvin come to the boil too fast. Lines from an underwritten social worker character, Anna, are a little too cliched to really tease out the sinister nature of the system. Still, these undeniably important issues make a necessary piece of theatre in which we see the everyday through music-loving Dwight’s eyes.

Director Nancy Medina does a good job of blending past and present, with astute opening staging that has a young and older Shirley pacing the family’s living room. Jean Chan has shaped the home-styled set to include full-scale dance speakers. When Dwight blares music or is forced to turn it down, it is played only at the volume he hears it. Even his anxiety attacks, under blazing red lights, come as the revolving record on the stage floor continues to keep spinning.

In the even more harrowing second half, the play zooms outwards to look at racism in the police and medical professions. The effect of injustice in these institutions ripples through the family’s life, breaking them apart, and crushing their hope. The breakdown of Josephine – the sibling’s dutiful mother, played with vim by Nadia Williams plays – makes for particularly rough moments. But light trickles in with dance routines shared between young Shirley and her father as they try to lift each other’s spirits.

The power of this production’s focus on Dwight is realised with an extraordinary performance from Lee Phillips. Excelling in his character, he balances his unease with a genuine love for his family. Heart-wrenching and essential, this is not perfect theatre, but it packs a punch 

Written by
Anya Ryan


£15-£32.50. Runs 2hr 20min
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