Going Dark, Young Vic, London 


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The Independent Culture

It was Milan Kundera, I think, who said that an author should, as a point of firm principle, avoid giving a character a job or a profession that is too convenient to the thematic or symbolic intent of the work of art.

So, to take this to a reductio ad absurdum, a novel about the need to unbung one's emotional U-bend would not posit as its protagonist a hot shot from Dynorod.  We should be grateful that writer Hattie Naylor and her collaborators -- the ace immersive theatre specialists, Sound&Fury -- have not taken this (generally well-founded) advice to heart.

There are two characters in Going Dark and the one "in vision" -- superlatively played here by John Mackay -- is a passionate astronomer who sometimes acts as narrator man at the city's planetarium.  Normally, it might make one's heart sink a little to hear that such a figure succumbs to an eye condition that gradually destroys his sight.  The idea of a man whose gaze has been trained on the so-called "corners" of the cosmos being driven to peer inside himself is all too susceptible to cliche.  But not here in this quite wonderful piece of theatre.  It manages to marry the best aspects of such dazzling text-based plays as Stoppard's Arcadia and Frayn's Copenhagen, which make profound use of science as metaphor, with state-of-the art deployment of theatre-as-atmosphere techniques.

The "action" takes place in a spectral environment where the lighting ranges from semi-darkness to black so dense it is like being wrapped in weightless fur.  Our protagonist is also a single parent who has conversations with the taped voice of his little, inquiring, precocious son.  It is heartbreaking when the latter pipes up uncomprehendingly to his deteriorating father: "Stop it dad.  Stop staring at me Daddy."  The piece contains mini-lectures on the nature of the universe, the illustrating material stencilled on the gloom.  There is no fixed point in the universe, so where does that leave us?    The father suffers from a syndrome whereby, starved of images by the eye, the brain adjusts by hallucinating.  How does that affect our criteria for "reality?  Such considerations -- with the engulfing notion that the universe itself is going dark -- turn this magnificent evening into a pulse-quickening poem.

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