To explore a delicate subject in such a poignant, profound and respectful way truly makes a work of art. Tm Watts, Arielle Gray and Chris Isaacs, creators and performers of the inventive and moving It’s Dark Outside, have done an incredible job of producing a show that is tenderly whimsical and undeniably beautiful.
Inspired by personal experiences and research into Alzheimer’s, assisted by Julie Watts, the performance preoccupies itself with themes of aging, mental deterioration and getting lost. An old man suffering from dementia wanders impulsively into the wilderness, running from the life he can barely remember. As the play progresses, he is pursued by a seemingly dark, ominous figure with a butterfly net, encounters a faithful tent, and periodically loses his mind and memories in the form of small clouds.
Using puppetry, a mask, digital animation and live performance, much of the play’s success hinges on the skills of its cast, the fluid movement from one theatrical element to the next, and the flawless interaction between each of these and the performers. Every new development and surprise is a delight to the audience as Watts, Grey and Isaacs move seamlessly through each uniquely crafted scene.
Arielle Gray portrays the endearing old man behind a facial mask and swamped beneath a large jumper, while Tim Watts poses behind a screen for absolutely astounding, large-scale shadow puppetry as the sinister pursuer. All three use shadow puppetry, buck and quiver as the loveable, personified tent, and mould memory dogs from white cloud. As an ensemble, they effectively and convincingly move as one cohesive unit, particularly when operating the small puppet version of the old man.
One of the most notable achievements of the performance is its ability to propel the narrative forward with a complete lack of dialogue. Rachael Dease’s positively phenomenal music composition is sometimes gentle and cheery, and sometimes haunting and melancholy. With the artistic direction of Perth Theatre Company’s Melissa Cantwell, the movement is choreographed perfectly to the soundtrack.
In an appropriately black performance space, the play could just as easily have been named “It’s Dark Inside”. The innovative omission of full-strength lighting, starlight on the screen, and use of torches is ingenious. It is the way the performers claim the dark space and sparse set constructed by Anthony Watts that brings each dark, flickering shape to life and makes worlds from the empty space in front of the changing, multimedia backdrop.
While the worsening state of the old man is powerfully sad, a sliver of hope is visible in the final animated sequences. Tim Watts, Arielle Gray and Chris Isaacs, along with artistic director Melissa Cantwell, have produced an intensely evocative masterpiece that is relatable to even those who have not had direct personal experience with Alzheimer’s. The themes are adult, but the performance has a magical atmosphere that brings out the vulnerable, wide-eyed child in its audience.
Bookings: www.perththeatre.com.au or BOCS Ticketing 08 9484 1133