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The Dark: two-person play is a triumph

THE DARK: Michael Balogun and Akiya Henry on stage at Ovalhouse

THEATRE, ARGUABLY more than any other art form, relies on the audience suspending its belief and indulging in their imagination completely. This is amplified when it comes to a two person plays with multiple characters and a modest set design and budget. Without the mind tricks of special effects and the capabilities of big budgets, the actors really have outdo themselves to make their audience believe.

It’s not easy feat to pull off something that. But that’s just what Michael Balogun and Akiya Henry manage in The Dark.

The story, based on Makoha’s own life and set in Idi Amin’s Uganda, follows a young Makoha (Nick) and his mother on their journey to escape their home country at a time when the regime was at its most violent.

It’s both timely and timeless, everything from the desperation to escape trouble and conflict, the pursuit of a better, safer life and the hostile reception those seeking refuge and asylum so often encounter when they reach what they believe to be a safe haven, in this case England.

Makoha said: “Ultimately the story is about when did I, the four-year-old boy, become the other.”

The vehicle, a matatu (minibus), which transports the characters to their destinations, also metaphorically transports the audience to Uganda.

This is something that Makoha was keen to engineer.

“I wanted you to fall in love with all of the people on the bus. If you fall in love with all the people in the bus, then you’re in Uganda,” he said.

There is little costume adaptation as Balogun and Henry switch between characters so their voice acting is a vital tool for portraying the various distinct stories and personalities weaved in as Nick and his mother go on their journey, taking the audience with them.

TWO-PERSON PLAY: Balogun and Henry are tasked with bringing multiple characters to life

This can make it slightly difficult to keep up and some parts require considerably more imagination than others. Narration, however, aids the audience’s understanding of the various themes and provides context to the parts of The Dark where the characters themselves cannot vocalise vital background information, as does the use of text and archival images shown on a projector, which the cast operate.

Because of the delivery of multiple roles from only two actors, the experience of the production is likely to be split depending on how much individual members of the audience are prepared or able to surrender their reasoning. If you allow yourself to let go and connect with the characters, The Dark can be both heartwarming, and, at times, heartbreaking.

Henry hasn’t glossed over the demands the production required and alluded to the physical challenges of the play, which sees her play everyone from a heavily pregnant biscuit vendor to a rebel fighter, and the well-educated mother of Nick.

She said working on the multi-role production was “hard work”, half-joking that she lost a notable amount weight as a result of the preparation for her roles, and admitted to having doubts about whether or not it would work. Despite initial reservations, it does.

On seeing the play, Makoha’s mother said it was “a very inspirational story”, to which he replied: ‘Mum, it’s your story.’”

While the subject matter is heartbreaking, the risks taken inspiring and the ending bittersweet, it’s wonderful that this story – one that’s Makoha’s and his mother’s, but also one which many will identify with – has come to the stage.

The Dark is on at Ovalhouse theatre until December 1. Book tickets here

Following tonight’s performance, a discussion hosted by theatre critic and blogger Maddy Costa will take place. Audience members from other showings of The Dark are welcome to attend.

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