Lack of focus and a shaky plot struggle to light up this uninspiring new play.
Set in present-day Dalston, Stewart Permutt’s two-hander begins with plenty of promise as we’re introduced to a familiar world which looks as if it will go on to tackle some heavy issues. Gideon, a young Jewish man, seeks refuge at Gina’s council flat after being attacked nearby. With a clanging clash of cultures, and themes of religious intolerance and existential angst, the scope is huge. But with such a wide brief, Permutt’s play struggles to anchor itself on any particular issue. Instead, it floats around its subject matter without scratching much beneath the surface, rarely providing much insight into the complex reality of the lives of its protagonists.
Gideon is a middle class Jew from Stanmore, practically the cultural opposite of Gina, an ex-nurse practically housebound as she looks after her ill partner. The cultural differences between the two characters are explored, but mainly through awkward attempts at comedy, which don’t always land.
Gina (Michelle Collins) is very strong, but inevitably familiar in a role that wouldn’t look out of place in any soap. Although there are some lovely moments of comedy early-on in the play, Collins’s performance feels pitched at a bigger space, and in the Park Theatre’s intimate auditorium some of the delivery doesn’t quite ring true. The production’s strongest moments are those in which Gina and Gideon (a very likeable Joe Coen) simply exist in the space. It’s impossible not to be entranced and charmed by somebody eating a crisp sandwich on stage. These moments of simplicity are the most entrancing, highlighting the strength of both actors as well as the weaknesses of the piece.
The main connection Permutt draws between the two characters is the way they perceive mental health, but the play’s crass exploration of a complex subject barely even scratches the surface and comes across poorly.
The plays main strength is also its weakness: a pivotal plot point comes towards the end of the piece, and the evening suddenly becomes more interesting; the dialogue is sharper both in precision and intent. But such a moment is really needed much earlier in this 105 minute play. The scene in question is so strong that it feels out of place in what is otherwise a poorly-paced and relatively bland production.
GT gives A Dark Night In Dalston at Park Theatre — 2/5
— Gay Times Magazine (@GayTimesMag) February 17, 2017
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