Barbara Peirson, Christianity, Darkness, David Tarkenter, Emma Jane Connell, Faith, Gari Jones, Jamie Wallwork, Jonathan Lichtenstein, Joshua Hayes, Kieran Knowles, Lakeside Theatre, Nathan Wright, Religious Fundamentalism, Zoo Roxy
[The following contains spoilers.]
Tension is a troublesome spirit for any play to raise, as it can wreak havoc if not properly laid to rest. Lakeside Theatre’s new show “Darkness,” which is currently playing mid afternoons in the old Roxy Art House, is a thoroughly captivating play which is ruined by a botched ending. David Tarkenter plays Huw, a cranky old Welsh patriarch who skulks with his family out in a remote forest. They all follow some mad religion – a visionary, apocalyptic Calvinism – which they seem to have invented between them, or to be making up as they go along. But there is Rapture on the cards, and most of this family believe that they will soon ascend from the local hilltop. It is hardly spoiling things to reveal that they don’t.
Huw’s daughter Caitlyn (Emma Jane Connell) has invited home her Croatian-Muslim boyfriend, Yann (Kieran Knowles), whom the family reluctantly accept, but only after vaccinating him with a forced baptism. I will hear nothing said against this play’s cast, who are roundly magnificent. They together create the powerful and quite authentic sense of an outsider’s discomfort when arriving in a close-knit rural community. The action on stage remains enthralling to the end and it is delivered with a fine eye for quirky detail. Alas, the Judas of this company is the writer, Jonathan Lichtenstein, whose roughshod treatment of religious fundamentalism finally betrays this performance.
Huw and his sons Tony (Jamie Wallwork) and Ollie (Nathan Wright) are basically clowns, whose fundamentalist antics are offered for us to smirk at, and the striking and sensitive acting cannot ultimately obscure the fact that these are in essence cartoon characters. Huw tries to strike off Ollie’s offending hand with an axe, just as Abraham bound Isaac and God sent his own son to be crucified, and Ollie runs away from home to wander through modernity like Christ in the wilderness. But once Ollie returns, Huw’s diseased fundamentalist mind will lead him to simply murder this prodigal son, affirming that religion only works in scripture and never in practice.
Tony at one point tries to kill Yann, and this finally offers the open goal which we have been waiting for. Yann blurts out about how the destructive irrationality of religion laid waste to the villages of his native Croatia. Perhaps Yann has forgotten that nationalism rather than fundamentalism caused this particular conflict, but such details can only spoil a satisfying slice of Dawkins pie. The underlying point of this play is that Huw is given a good telling off for being too religious, which allows us to all bask in the smug knowledge that we are sensible, goody-two-shoes secularists. Yet the moral is accomplished with such unseemly force that even Huw the religious looney will himself grumble, “spare us the sermon.”
Although this family still apparently lives in some deep, obscure passage of the Bible, before the arrival of any churches, they nevertheless manage to have a classically-Scottish Presbyterian split, with half the family disestablishing themselves. Yet the problem with this play is that its moral postures cast no lasting shadows. Fundamentalism itself is not actually the one in the dock.
This family are only religious because they live in a remote corner of Wales. Without his visionary tête-à-têtes with God, Huw has only E-bay and his penchant for Prawn Cocktail crisps to sustain him through those grim winter nights. This is foremostly an indictment of a clapped-out rural subculture, rather than the faith which has merely grown over its barren terrain. As nobody really lives in these circumstances other than the play’s unfortunate characters, then any satire or morality is rather lost on a metropolitan audience. Although half of the family decamp to Swansea at the end of the play, it remains unclear whether they will find anything with the richness and power of scripture in their brave new world of truth. They may find it akin to choosing between Sodom and Gomorrah.