There are times when an audience doesn’t clap because they don’t enjoy what they’re seeing. Then there are times when we are too stunned to applaud.
The latter applied often to The Dark Party, a dusky delight of sideshow performances by the three Dirty Brothers in which they subject their bodies to bizarre or painful-looking acts. While some scenes are comedic and damned good fun, some moments of struggle give the piece its haunting, Stygian radiance.
Cast as a comedy in the Spiegeltent season guide, there’s certainly plenty of that in the show. This is no stand-up act however; the wordless humour is of a dark variety. Often this is of an extreme, physical type that earned gasps from the audience. Shock value aside, the humour works becaus we very quickly get a sense of the characters, and we can empathise with the put-upon brother who seems to come out worst in most situations.
While comedy might be the guest of honour at this gathering, a dramatic presence is as much the life of the party. We might think “It must be safe, the performers know what they’re doing” or “That’s a clever illusion”, but when you see a fishing hook through an upper arm at close range in a scene worthy of Dante’s Inferno, you know that this is real, with real risk involved. It feels like a Salvador Dali painting has come to life and slapped you on the buttocks – amazement teeters between apprehension and curious delight.
The Dark Party dares to have impressive acts integrated into scenes where characters exhibit emotions from remorse to self-satisfaction. By being much more than a series of tricks, it is on the way to being a theatre piece except the beginning and ending felt rather tacked-on and the mood-setting introduction could be developed. It’s also a bit unfortunate that such a visual show often doesn’t lend itself to the flat seating of the Spiegeltent, so get there early to sit very close to the front.
I hadn’t seen the Dirty Brothers for some years, and while I enjoyed new scenes, maybe some of the lighter fun is missing from this outing. But this is of no matter for a dark party of such charms.