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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Friday, October 16, 2009

The Dark Things, Traverse Theatre review

Published in The Guardian

The Dark Things

Traverse, Edinburgh
4 out of 5

In this arresting new play by Ursula Rani Sarma, the characteristic gesture of actor Brian Ferguson is a hand held like a stop-sign against an encroaching world. He plays Daniel, a gifted young artist who is one of only two survivors of a horrific bus crash. The experience has left him emotionally raw, his post-traumatic distress compounded by guilt at being alive. In a compellingly troubled performance, Ferguson squirms on the spot and lets no one get close.

Like Simon Stephens's Pornography, The Dark Things looks at a meaningless act of cruelty that strikes at an already alienated society. The accident is an amalgam of the London bombings and the attack on the twin towers (the lorry that collides with the bus is carrying toy aeroplanes), but it could stand for any natural disaster that reminds us of the arbitrary nature of death.

The play suggests that a society fragmented by commodification – from the sex industry to the art market – finds it especially hard to respond to such tragedies. Its atomisation makes it incapable of collective healing. Trying to do justice to his experience, Daniel switches from abstract paint to documentary realism but, having been embraced by the money-making art business, is still accused of exploitation.

In Dominic Hill's excellently acted production, Karl is the really exploitative one, capitalising on the low self-esteem of Daniel's sister Steph to become an abusive boyfriend. Steph looks to the wrong person for help, as does LJ, who can no more get the love she needs from Daniel, her fellow survivor, than he can get satisfaction from Gerry, his alcoholic psychiatrist. It ends not quite with tragedy or redemption, but Rani Sarma brings enough wit, empathy and vigour to make a morose subject almost life-affirming.

© Mark Fisher 2009

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