Ovalhouse, London – until 1 December 2018
Nick Makoha’s play The Dark tells his own story when, as a child, his mother smuggled him out of Idi Amin’s Uganda in search of a better life in the UK.
It is a story of a dangerous, overnight, bus journey shared with a group of strangers and told through a series of recollections and sketches. The narrative jumps back and forth in time as if memories and the landscape are being pieced together.
Nick and his mother’s fellow passengers are an assortment of stoic survivors, rebels and the mysterious. The journey becomes a mixture of anecdotes, politics, history and tense moments with life-threatening encounters. The set, cleverly designed by Rajha Shakiry, is a deconstructed bus with an overloaded roof rack hanging precariously above bench seats. These are moved around into different configurations for flashbacks and journey breaks.
Lighting by Neill Brinkworth throws long shadows around the edges of the stage, creating a darkness from which danger can emerge and passengers can disappear. Michael Balogun and Akiya Henry play all the characters, scene to scene swapping gender and age to portray everyone from the young Nick to a doddery old man and pregnant biscuit seller.
The scene shifts can be rapid and combined with shorter scenes it can be difficult to keep up. An overhead projector displays photos and a handwritten timeline of the bus journey which helps.
Makoha’s writing is vivid and rich but it is the slower, more considered exchanges which have a bigger impact. A scene where the passengers encounter a boy soldier lingers long after the narrative has moved on.
You get a sense of the danger of the journey and the political landscape they were escaping from but some of the detail and characters feel lost along the way.
I’m giving The Dark three and a half stars. It’s 70 minutes long and is at Ovalhouse until 1 December.
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