‘From Darkness’ was engrossing.
In a world where technology makes connections seem simple, feeling a sense of belonging with family, and being present with those around is more challenging than ever. Exploring this theme of connectedness is ‘From Darkness’, a World Premiere and co-production of La Boite Theatre Company and Brisbane Festival.
Written by comedic genius and indigenous icon, Steven Oliver, ‘From Darkness’ had audience members weeping with sadness and belly-laughing simultaneously. Such a contradiction may seem impossible, but not with Oliver’s ‘withitness’. His story presents a glimpse into the modern indigenous household; humour, conflict, and all. The plot follows a family filled with grief and guilt, divided by their own sadness, but united by their shared wit. While much of the play deals with the chaos of ordinary life, with subtle political nods, it is the explicit spiritual components that add depth to the piece and make this the most insightful and honest show of the year.
Presented in the Roundhouse Theatre, the set included a simple kitchen and dining room at the front, a bedroom to the rear, and a large curved projection screen as a backdrop. While on arrival the set appears simplistic, Set Designer, Kevin O’Brien, has included many hidden tech elements that allow furniture and household items to come alive. In one instance the radio turns on of its own accord, and the table begins to vibrate, suggesting an unseen presence.
However, even this wasn’t the most impressive aspect. One of the highlights of this production was the digital backdrop, which was utilised in key moments, and hugely effective. O’Brien has collaborated with Visual Designer, Keith Deverell, Lighting Designer, Ben Hughes, and Sound Designer and Composer, Guy Webster, to materialise otherworldly characters and settings.
The spiritual component of ‘From Darkness’ explores the characters’ connection to the dreaming, their ancestors, and their own philosophical perspectives. This component is expressed in digital, ghost-like visuals that are given dimension with a bold blue and black palette and a soundscape that can be physically felt by the audience.
From the clever technology and design work to the skilful performers, all the components of show were united by a clear vision for the piece. Director, Isacc Drandic has blown it out of the park with this production. His work on ‘City of Gold’ left audiences ready to storm the streets as activists, whilst this production had them looking internally, and reflecting on their own spirituality. Both highlight Drandic’s ability to manipulate the crowd, shift mindsets, and encourage action. His signature, beyond the way he creates brutally honest moments and seamless scene transitions, is the way his work touches the spirit.
In the role of the family matriarch Nanna Lou, Roxanne McDonald was show-stopping. Not only did she have a plethora of hilarious one-liners, she delivered them in a witty but loveable way, much like writer Steven Oliver in his own comedic roles. McDonald rocked her vibrant costume of hot pinks and tangerines, dangling earrings and dot art sneakers. Her persona as Nanna Lou matched the eccentric nature of her clothes, and she managed the emotional rollercoaster of the role with pizazz. The conflict between Nanna Lou and her daughter-in-law Abigail was toxic, and McDonald handled the aggressive scenes with honesty and depth.
Abigail, portrayed by Lisa Maza, was a woman torn apart by the loss of her son. Maza allowed her character to be both bold and sensitive, particularly in moments where she admitted to her feelings of guilt. Her most impressive scene work was in the very real progressions from annoyance at others to extreme frustration and anger. The emotional transitions were paced and believable.
Benjin Maza, in one of the more challenging roles of the show, Preston, was able to showcase his diverse acting skills. In many early scenes, he lingered in the background, a ghostly figure who watched on as life happened. He held a menacing smile at times, and his laughter was timely but disconnected from his family. Maza went on to play an ordinary teenage boy, dealing with the loss of his twin brother, and then a spiritual presence once more. In all of these roles he had a strong stage presence, capturing and diverting attention with rigid stage crosses, and intriguing body movements.
Completing the cast were Ebony McGuire as Akira, the daughter, and Colin Smith as Eric, the father. The characters parallel each other in the way they dealt with grief, Akira by plugging into the digital world, and Eric by shutting off from talking to his wife. Both McGuire and Smith gave striking performances in these roles, and their ability was most noticeable in their interaction and chemistry with the other performers.
Audiences were engrossed in the characters, the story and the message of ‘From Darkness’. The emotive language brought many to tears, the hilarious one-liners were electrifying and the show was concluded with many audience members giving a standing ovation. Steven Oliver has written a world-class play, and La Boite and Brisbane Festival have delivered a true and powerful rendition.
‘From Darkness’ performs until Saturday, 28 September 2019 at La Boite Theatre Company. For more information on the show visit La Boite Theatre Company Website – From Darkness.