first night

Black Comedy

Leo Mylonadis struggles to see the light in LTC's 'Black Comedy'


Peter Shaffer’s comedy tells the story of the hapless young sculptor, Brindsley Miller, who attempts to impress art collector Georg Bamberger by stealing his neighbour’s furniture being thwarted by a building-wide blackout, may seem like a typical, silly farce, there is an interesting added twist: the lighting of the entire play is inverted. Darkness is shown by bright, white light, and the lighting of a match or candle dims the light in the room. It is this variation on the classical farcical model that could be this play’s strongest attribute; however, due to slight directorial and design decisions, it failed to fulfil its potential as a clever, yet funny play.


The actors, in their attempts to convey their inability to see in the pitch black, unfortunately took on a variety of different, inconsistent and unbelievable approaches to navigating themselves around the room. It was difficult to imagine the darkness when some actors walked with perfect ease about the place while others struggled to place one foot in front of the other. Another trouble came in the lighting transitions, which on some occasions were so sudden that even some actors were surprised and blinded by the light. The use of localised dimming, or more gradual fades would have better suited the candlelight perhaps, although the tech team must be commended for being able to keep on top of the many, many zippo clicks which meant yet another lighting change. With a bit more variety in the lighting design, and with a bit more practice at acting as if walking in the dark, the light, which is such a central part to the humour and story of the play, would have been much more effective.


The set comprised of an impressive assortment of furniture, decking out the London apartment. The intense attention to detail, such as flowers in a vase on the sideboard really did transport the audience into a couple’s living room in Kensington. The bedroom at the back provided another level to what would otherwise have been very flat action, although some of the lines were lost in the actors’ attempt to belt them from the back of the Assembly Rooms stage. With such a varied stage, and with so much space to play with, it was a shame to see the actors often unintentionally blocking one another and driving the action from halfway into the wings.


The cast must all be commended on their understanding of the play however, and their commitment to their roles – at no point did I feel uncertainty got the better of them, as they all knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing. They should also congratulate themselves on having the most consistent accents in any show I have seen in Durham, leading one audience member I overheard to ask “is Rory Parker German? He sounded like he was German.” Luke Satterthwaite’s portrayal of Harold Gorringe, the camp, swindled neighbour, was fresh and consistently humorous, while Jack Close’s Colonel Melkett, Miller’s ‘rah’ father-in-law-to-be, was a confident and assured presence on the stage. Both, however, along with the rest of the cast, very happily descended into caricatures, ignoring any form of internal motivation the characters might have which made any sort of empathy from the audience quite impossible. Director Ollie Burrows writes that the subtle nuances of the characters are “non-existent”, and that the play is merely made for people to laugh. Unfortunately, without even the smallest amount of reality in the characters, the farce becomes so unbelievable it even grows difficult to laugh at its ludicrousness.


In conclusion, I found myself often questioning the decisions the cast and crew made in the spacing, acting and lighting, since with small tweaks here and there; the play could develop into a sharp, fluid and truly hilarious comedy. Peter Shaffer described the opening night of ‘Black Comedy’ at the Old Vic, where even the most reserved member of the audience ended up on the floor, crying of laughter. It was a shame to see it not lived up to its full potential, but Lion Theatre Company should be commended on this strong attempt as their Assembly Rooms debut.

21 March 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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