It’s Dark Outside is a touching piece of pure poetry.
The latest multi-disciplinary creation of Tim Watts, Arielle Gray, and Chris Isaacs, is an evocative piece of physical theatre that seamlessly fuses together live action, mask work, puppetry, shadow puppetry, projected animation, and even a little dance (albeit by a puppet and a tent). All the while, not a word is spoken.
Such a hybrid sounds chaotic, but it is actually a gentle, melancholic piece that slowly unfolds the journey of Hal, a man with dementia, who wanders into the wilderness at sunset in search of his thoughts and memories. He becomes a wanted man in his own western adventure; he finds a ‘Wanted’ poster with his face on it, tames a wild tent (yes a tent) to become his trusted companion, and has a showdown with a mysterious cowboy who is tracking him and catching his thought clouds in a butterfly net. There is an unexpected reveal towards the end that provides meaning to this seemingly surreal, meandering adventure, much like a dream that makes sense after interpretation.
To accompany this dreamlike piece, Rachael Dease has composed a stunningly emotive soundtrack that is tender and playful at times, and melancholic at others. So striking was the music that quite a few CDs of the soundtrack were sold afterward.
A huge projector screen covers the width and height of the stage. In the opening scene the screen cleverly displays a cartoon version of the man’s living room. The screen is also used for shadow puppetry and animation, creating vignettes of memories as well as a background that moves in time with the elderly man as he wanders through the wilderness.
The character Hal wears a rubber mask which made me think of him as an elderly version Elma Fudd. Hal is also represented by an animated version and a mini-me puppet version, expertly manipulated by the three actor/puppeteers. Even his trusty tent/horse is animated. Hal’s thoughts are personified as puffy white clouds, which transform into objects. I won’t spoil it, but one of these moments provides the loveliest surprise of the show.
Although it is whimsically comical in places, this is a sad story. Even if your family has not been touched by dementia, the fragility of life, the loss of a grandparent, and/or the inevitable aging of your own parents comes to mind when viewing this work.
It’s Dark Outside is a highly rewarding experience, that touches one’s humanity like a cleansing of the soul.
Sensitive to the audience, they gave a moment after curtain call, before slowly turning up the houselights. The trio of actors/puppeteers then invited audience members to come onto the stage to give feedback, or just to get a hug. More than half the audience took them up on their offer and an impromptu talk on the concept and the techniques behind their work followed.
Commissioned by the Perth Theatre Company and nominated for a 2013 Helpmann Award, It’s Dark Outside is one of the most beautifully poetic, unique, innovative, and poignant pieces of theatre that I have experienced.
It’s Dark Outside Promo: YouTube