The most refreshing aspect of Theatre Paradok’s ‘Dark Tales’ was its overwhelming loyalty to its genre. Rather than trying to appeal to a minority of supposed ‘original’ drama by mixing genres and styles which we see all too often with student plays, ‘Dark Tales’ played heavily on the fact that its audience knew exactly what to expect. The Banshee Labyrinth made a fantastic choice of setting for the ghost stories; its small and intimate auditorium creating a creepy atmosphere before the play even began. At first, I was unsure when the lights blackened as to what the extent of audience interaction would be. Part of me was convinced (and fairly terrified) that the actors would jump straight into the audience in a deliberate attempt to scare us. Instead, actors stayed behind the fourth wall, only adding the sinister yet effective touch of making eye contact with audience members.
I went into part one oblivious of the fact that it was based on an already existing story, “The Signal-Man” by Dickens. The actors stayed true to its dark and grimy style, its lead role portraying a seemingly very disturbed signal-man who ‘saw’ a man, waving and calling out to him every night. This character, contrasted with his somewhat sardonic and increasingly apprehensive companion, appeared crazed and paranoid of everything around him. The dialogue between both actors flowed effectively, pausing at exactly the right moments to cause a rise in tension and allowing the audience to doubt, not just once, the sanity of its protagonist. One repeated, yet subtle action which, at times had me hanging off the edge of my seat and looking over my shoulder, was when the actors would stare, absolutely horrified, at a point just beyond the back row. It had me convinced that something was going to jump out at any second. The lighting, too, created eerie shadows throughout; particularly when demonstrating the ‘man’ who waved and called out to the victim. Perhaps the noise fluctuated a little disjointedly throughout the play. For example, whenever the signal-man was re-telling his creepy experience, a loud and obtrusive train sound would ensue, at times drowning out his frantic dialogue before stopping abruptly, allowing him to continue.
As much as part one was captivatingly creepy, I couldn’t help but love part two as soon as the puppets were introduced. The play followed an old woman recounting the story of her time as a nurse-maid to a young girl born into a mysterious aristocratic family. Not only was the transition from the old nurse-maid to her past self wonderfully done, but the portrayal of the old and sour masters of the house as tall, masked puppets was absolutely chilling. I immediately became aware of how the nurse-maid herself was singled out as a character just through costume; everyone else wore black, making them the sombre, regretful informants of the situation, whereas the nurse-maid herself was in white, showing her innocence and ignorance regarding the haunted house and its connection with the little girl she was looking after. In this case, the sound was used to show the haunting itself. I particularly liked the organ and the unnerving lullaby sung by an unknown woman. My only criticism of part two is that the plot was quite convoluted for such a short play; sometimes I found it difficult to follow, particularly at the end when the entire conspiracy was revealed. Usually I would have been opposed to the use of projection, but, in this case, it definitely helped me to understand what was happening.
If you’re after an original yet wonderfully truthful retelling of two twisty, dark tales that rely on your faith as an audience to accept the strange, yet classic plots, then I would definitely recommend ‘Dark Tales’. Overall it was a thoroughly gripping experience.
Guest Reviewer: Sophia Emmerson
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