By Jessica Leafe
Combining the use of multimedia, puppetry and physical theatre, It’s Dark Outside is a visual production from the Perth Theatre Company that explores the nightly wanderings of a restless elderly man suffering from a form of dementia. His walkabout takes him from the urban setting surrounding his home to unfamiliar and wild terrain, as his memories (enacted with effective use of props and animation) drift elusively from him and he attempts to recapture them. Pursued by an unknown bushranger-like figure collecting these passing memories, the old man encounters events, figures and friends from his past, accompanied by a loyal dog-like tent in which he camps.
The three creators (and performers) of the production, Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs and Tim Watts, (with the research assistance of counsellor and poet Julie Watts) have derived the concept from Sundowning Syndrome, a psychological occurrence of inexplicable changes in behaviour experienced by sufferers of forms of dementia around evening time. One of these behaviours is where the person leaves their home and wanders off into the surroundings, and it is from this particular phenomenon that the old man’s departure into the wild has been taken.
Gray, Isaacs and Watts say in their creators’ note that they “do not look to share insight into the mind of a dementia patient, nor pretend to understand the complexities of a disease that affects so many”. This is clear in the unobtrusive nature of their play. The lack of dialogue and soft combination of props and media leads the audience away from contemporary theatre’s tendency to demand academic opinion at all costs, and instead simply requires acceptance and the ability to watch and listen.
The result is a beautifully effective production of gentle storytelling. The visual effects of all the different mediums the creators have employed –including shadow puppetry, physical acting and often supplemented with animation and original composition- all assist in allowing the audience to walk along with this silent senior and see the parts of his life that have been hidden away in memory. Supplemented with original music by Rachael Dease that haunts each scene, and performed upon a very simple set by Anthony Watts, It’s Dark Outside is a short and tender production that would be enjoyed by young families, adults and older children alike.
Currently playing at Riverside Theatre Parramatta until Thursday May 29, then touring regionally throughout Australia.
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