The Dark Room, Paperbark Theatre @ Theatre503

8 November – 2 December 2017

by Angela Betzien
Directed by Audrey Sheffield
Paperbark Theatre / Thinking Aloud / Theatre503
(c) Alex Brenner

Photography by Alex Brenner (

Set in a depressing motel in the remote Northern Territory, The Dark Room follows six characters haunted by the same brutal crime. Their shattered community is riddled with abuse, police brutality and tragedy, and each character grapples desperately for some sense of salvation.

Angela Betzien’s play is shocking, often charming and incredibly raw. As an audience we’re jammed into the pressure cooker with them. It’s enthralling, powerful, and not always an easy watch.

Australian plays often feel that way to me. I lived in Sydney for 14 years, and this production is true to the best Aussie dramas I grew up with. And like most Aussie writing, it always gives me the impression that it’s been flayed and left in the sun for a few weeks. The stories and narratives overlap, and the timeline is distorted. With elements of a horror/thriller thrown in for good measure, we as an audience are left to puzzle out the twisted events of the play as events unfold.

The acting is superb. As a cast they are unbelievably strong, each bringing a powerful stage presence and truthful performances. Besides, there’s one native Australian among them and you’ll be hard pressed to guess who it is. The Australian accent is not an easy one (trust me), but they nail it.

Annabel Smith (Grace – pictured above in the mask) is terrifying and intense. It’s an affecting in-your-face performance that distils the rot at the core of the play into the shape of an abused teenager.

Her relationship with Anni (Katy Brittain) is the backbone of the piece from the start. As the two tussle they bring out each other’s vulnerabilities in a way which is magnetic and emotive.

Brittain provides a masterclass of acting. It’ s a stunningly sensitive and tender performance as a woman desperate to do right against all the odds and faced with the impossible. She is heart-breaking to watch.

Tamlyn Henderson’s charismatic performance as the weary cop Stephen brings much of the plays charm. His performance swaggers easily between the uproariously comical and deeply dramatic in his struggles with his heavily-pregnant and dissatisfied wife, Emma (Fiona Skinner). Skinner’s grounded and relatable performance gives a great strength to their dynamic. It’s a pleasure to watch.

Rounding off the talented cast is the calm, sinister alpha-male Craig (Alasdair Craig), and the disturbed and victimised Joseph (Paul Adeyefa). They provide high-octane performances that do justice to the play’s themes of abuse and brutally.

Audrey Sheffield’s directing gives life to the piece. Using the design, space, and bodies of her actors to build on the feeling of claustrophobia, while giving the plays humour and charm enough room to breathe.

This play is like sitting *just* too close to a fire. Your skin prickles, it’s a little uncomfortable, and it’s impossible to look away.

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This production was made in partnership with NSPCC, UK’s leading children’s charity. For more information about the organisation and to support a good cause, click here.




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