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Going Dark

Published 9 March 2012

Sound&Fury’s beautiful, touching and tragic new play gives a whole new meaning to black box theatre.

Watching the one-man drama, it feels as if you have been sealed inside a light-tight box. Dark does not come close to describing the lack of light that at times leaves you wondering if your auditorium neighbour is still there or whether they have been silently spirited away.

Remove all light, of course, and the merest glimmer becomes heavy with importance. So every time John Mackay is illuminated, we hang on his words.

What words they are. Half the time Max (Mackay) delivers enthralling, awe-inducing lectures about the cosmos in his role at a planetarium, exploring wonders of creation and leading the audience on an educational trip to the stars. The other half sees his personal universe implode as he begins to lose his sight; traumatic for anyone, but for the single parent of a six-year-old boy, as Max is, it is crushing.

Maybe it is because I have a young son, but for all the deep questions of how we came to be and what is or isn’t real – and there are enough of those to have you pondering for weeks after seeing the show – it is this desperate situation that grips like a small baby on an offered finger and pulls you along gently and beautifully to its crushing, inevitable conclusion.

If it sounds depressing, well, I just welled up recollecting it. But it is far from a parade of misery. Mackay as Max struggles and fights to remain independent, pouring heart and soul into this benchmark for all fathers. His relationship with his son, whose voice we hear moving around the room but who we never see, is sweet, warm and witty, and I have never seen a packed lunch created with more skill and dexterity on a London stage.

I could spend time marvelling about Going Dark’s sound design, which features unseen nomadic voices and, when all the light is sucked out of the in-the-round auditorium, provides a terrifying, cacophonous insight into life without vision. I could laud Aleš Valášek’s award-winning design with its inventive use of projection and – stop me if I’ve already said this – light, but it was the heart-breaking, tiny personal tale fighting amid the epic enormity of the universe that left me wiping away a tear under London’s clear starry sky as I left the Young Vic. I wasn’t alone.

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