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the mind: travelling & unravelling

astrid francis: perth theatre company, it’s dark outside

Astrid Francis is a freelance arts writer, keenly observing theatre, film and dance events in Perth. She has a background in theatre performance and holds a Bachelor degree in Drama Studies and Photomedia from Edith Cowan University WA.

Tim Watts, It's Dark Outside, Perth Theatre Company Tim Watts, It's Dark Outside, Perth Theatre Company
photo Richard Jefferson
THE LATEST CREATION FROM THE MAKERS OF INTERNATIONAL FRINGE CIRCUIT FAVOURITE, THE ADVENTURES OF ALVIN SPUTNIK: DEEP SEA EXPLORER, IS A SOPHISTICATED, SINCERE AND WHIMSICAL STORY. WITH POISED HUMOUR, IT’S DARK OUTSIDE LAUNCHES INTO AN OTHERWORLDLY VOID WHERE A MAN EXPERIENCES SUNDOWN SYNDROME: A PSYCHOLOGICAL OCCURRENCE IN DEMENTIA PATIENTS WHO WANDER OFF FROM HOME, MOST FREQUENTLY AT SUNDOWN.

The main character is thus depicted as prone to random and aimless jaunts—symbolic of his increasing mental deterioration—embodied in a variety of visual tropes, including an animated tent that keeps him company on his lonesome ventures and a highly excitable, adorable puppet puppy born from a white puff of cloud. The old man and his trusted tent are vagabonds of the sunset, bedevilled by the ineffable and lost in time. Meanwhile, a butterfly net-wielding tracker who has caught his scent is resolute in hunting the man down and bringing him back to this world.

Like mesmeric clockwork, the skilled puppeteers are completely attuned to each other’s kinetic space. Tim Watts, Arielle Gray and Chris Isaacs bring delicacy and detail to the small puppet of the old man; their personification of the tent-as-noble-steed is inspired, as is the cloud-dog and other ephemeral figurations within the man’s hallucinatory state. The recurring motifs of clouds and the attempt to capture them with a net are expressions of the protagonist’s attempts to catch his thoughts before they flit away on the breeze. These are, initially, interesting metaphors for the states of both lucidity and fragmentation the man experiences as the clouds (and his ideas) break up, but ones that are to a degree overplayed.

However, Arielle Gray’s immersion within the character of the old man is flawless; her physical transformation, aided by a malleable mask complete with skin folds and creases, is complete. Her embodiment of the old man is filled with vulnerability along with a cheeky and determined attitude to triumph over the mysterious hunter. The animation designed by Watts coupled with the Ennio Morricone-inspired score by composer Rachael Dease pays homage to the Spaghetti Western’s quest for redemption. A particular highlight is the treatment of a scene using Sergio Leone’s filmmaking style in shadow play. Utilising bold depth of field juxtaposed with extreme close-ups for the staging of a duel, the old man and his tracker come face to face at high noon with only a walking stick and butterfly net at their disposal to fight it out.

Tim Watts, It's Dark Outside, Perth Theatre Company Tim Watts, It's Dark Outside, Perth Theatre Company
photo Richard Jefferson
More than a matinee movie backdrop, Dease’s score traverses a wide range of moods and genres, showcasing her versatility and an ability to draw from the dark and find an unsettling beauty within it. Her use of retro-electronic instruments coupled with sparse rhythmic accompaniments evokes several time periods simultaneously: a reflection perhaps of the old man’s internal state. At other times, we are treated to a Southern Gothic fascination with dread, as Dease’s smoky vocals heighten the mood of the theme song “It’s Dark Outside,” like a soothing promise following a nightmare. It’s tricky to get the balance right when using a theme song in a stage show and the number of times it recurred may have been a tad excessive. However, Dease’s score was like another character, bringing an added dimension to the piece as a whole.

It’s Dark Outside is an incarnation of certain feelings: the fear of being lost in a forest; summoning up deep pain from the past; an endless fascination with the wilderness of one’s own mind. Such feelings can be frightening or liberating for many of us, whether or not we are in the grips of a disease such as Alzheimer’s and this, perhaps, is where the success of the play resides: in its refusal to become merely a stylised public service announcement, It’s Dark Outside speaks to broader themes of social and psychological displacement.

All credit to Perth Theatre Company for commissioning these talented emerging artists to create a new work. There is limited opportunity in this city for emerging artists to move up to the next level of their practice and work with established artists or professional venues. With Perth Theatre Company’s investment in developing and producing the work of emerging artists, coupled with its relationship with organisations such as The Blue Room Theatre, the opportunity for emerging artists to develop their work with a professional outcome is now within reach.


Perth Theatre Company, It’s Dark Outside, created and performed by Tim Watts, Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs, composer Rachael Dease, set construction Anthony Watts; Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre WA, Perth, June 29-July 14

This article was originally published in RT's online e-dition July 17, 2012

Astrid Francis is a freelance arts writer, keenly observing theatre, film and dance events in Perth. She has a background in theatre performance and holds a Bachelor degree in Drama Studies and Photomedia from Edith Cowan University WA.

RealTime issue #110 Aug-Sept 2012 pg. 42

© Astrid Francis; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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