Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

A Dance in the Dark

Alun Howell
Studio 63 Productions
Footlights Theatre, Salford
23 July 2018 to 28 July 2018

 

A Dance in the Dark is, like the characters featured, gentle and unassuming – which presents all sorts of challenges for the cast and director. Gerald (Christopher John Ward) and Bethan (Emma Parker) are both damaged in ways that hinder them starting new relationships. Former rugby player Gerald suffered life-changing physical injuries during a game while Bethan is a rape survivor. Together they might be able for find a way to overcome the past and move forward but there are certain obstacles that must first be tackled. 

Alun Howell's script avoids sensationalism. The dry humour in the dialogue is underplayed so the characters don't seem unrealistically witty. Gerald and Bethan steadfastly refuse to give into self-pity. With so little dramatic potential the only option for retaining audience interest is if the characters are likable which, fortunately, happens to be true. The stoic attitude and dry delivery employed by the couple is far more endearing than had they been sunk in despair. 

Director Katie Mitchell draws the audience into Gerald’s world in a simple but intriguing manner. The opening scene is played with minimal lighting as Gerald frets about the wisdom of going through with his date. It is only in the closing moments that the reason for the dark setting and the untidy room becomes apparent as Gerald dons dark glasses and reaches for a white stick – his injuries have left him blind.  Yes, the irony of the couple on a ‘blind’ date is remarked upon.

Watching Christopher John Ward’s subtle performance makes one appreciate how much actors are dependent upon the use of their eyes and face to convey emotion. Ward maintains an unblinking stare off into the distance and carefully avoids making eye-contact with Emma Parker or responding to her gestures. It is a tightly- controlled performance in which emotion is conveyed through tone of voice.

Emma Parker matches the quality of Ward’s performance with Bethan’s tentative moves towards recovering from her ordeal; you can sense the painful process of learning to trust someone as she starts to move away from her carefully-prepared rules for dating. The relationship between the characters is charming but does not strain credibility. Bethan is too worldly-wise to be seduced by Ward’s wise-cracking Gerald but she is attracted by his vulnerability. 

A Dance in the Dark uses a simple concept very well to make a charming and funny play.

Reviewer: David Cunningham