MiNDFOOD reviews ‘Darkness’ – In a world where the sun has stopped shining, would we want to go on?

By Gill Canning

Imogen Sage and Alec Snow in 'Darkness', credit: Phil Erbacher</em>
Imogen Sage and Alec Snow in 'Darkness', credit: Phil Erbacher
A new immersive play invites the audience into the darkness, exploring Gothic ghost stories in a futuristic world. 

In 1816, at Mt Tambora in Indonesia, the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history took place. Not only did thousands die as a result, the event affected climates all around the world, causing food shortages for years. The ‘Year Without a Summer’ saw snowfall during summer, lowered temperatures and a marked lack of sunshine. For those not living in the vicinity, the cause of the change in climate would have been largely a mystery and it understandably brought fear to some that the end of the world was nigh.

Near Lake Geneva in Switzerland, five literary friends – Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, his soon-to-be-wife Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her half-sister Claire and Byron’s physician, Dr John Polidori, holed up in the beautiful Villa Diodati. They whiled away the time making up ghost stories to amuse each other.

A new Australian play, Darkness, takes that night and sets it in the near future – at a time where something mysterious and unseen has taken over the world, communities are being controlled and it is forbidden to meet in a group or hug people. Sound familiar?

In this play, one of the five has grown tired of the darkness and is planning to take their own life but the others declare that if the sun comes up the next morning, they should all go on.

Zoran Jevtic in ‘Darkness’, credit: Phil Erbacher

Playwright and screenwriter Andrew Bovell was one of four who collaborated on the script.“Its central question is how do we confront the future given that there is a fair degree of anxiety around climate change and changing social conditions in which we may have to start giving some things up that we are used to. People are asking ‘What’s the future going to look like?’ We look back to the past – to 1816 – when a group of friends gathered in a house and imagined the future. That was our point of inspiration – of imagining the future and trying to find reasons to move forward in a positive way.”

Darkness is being staged in a ‘new’ theatre space – The Library in Newtown, Sydney. Built in 1916, its past lives include a school of arts, a library, and (fittingly) a pop-up hospital during the Spanish Flu pandemic.

When you enter on the ground floor, you pass into the reimagined ‘Villa Diodati’ where Byron has collected all manner of things, including stuffed animals and birds, creepy vintage dolls, antique furniture and knick-knacks, and dollhouses painted deathly black. The bar is renamed The Apothecary, with bar staff in appropriate costume for mixing ‘potions’ (drinks for patrons).

Upstairs, the actual set is just as impressive, with a marble-floored castle providing shelter from the outside world where the wind and rain howls, helicopters surveil the area and eerie red light shines through the Gothic arched windows.

In 1816, the night in question produced a ghost story from Mary which was to become her most famous novel, Frankenstein, as well as Vampyre by Polidori, a short story considered the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

If you’re a fan of history, horror stories, or if you fancy encountering a world that is a fusion of past and present that prompts us to learn from yesteryear as we navigate our unknown future, enter the space that is Darkness.

The Library, 5 Eliza St, Newtown
Until 12 March, 2023


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