Almeida Theatre, London N1
Opened 27 November, 2008

It may seem odd, but one of the joys of this job is being proved wrong. Or rather, wrong and right at the same time. Or rather... well... When Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig opened this spring, I decried him as too often writing about the anguish of perpetrators of harm, more or less to the exclusion of their victims’ hurt. In one sense, that is still true of his In A Dark Dark House: thirtysomething Drew (Steven Mackintosh) and in particular his elder brother Terry (David Morrissey) are awash with temptations and guilts of varying hues.
But a dimension is added by repeatedly shifting our perspective as to which is the real bad guy, the one with the truly heinous personal dossier. Indeed, they often seem to be competing to be the bigger screw-up; especially in the last of the three scenes which compose this 100-minute play, they seem constantly to be trumping one another, with a series of admissions which would be implausible if we stopped to think rather than being so successfully engaged in re-evaluation. It is true that both brothers are also victims, having grown up subject to abuse both sexual and violent from differing quarters within and outside the family. But this unambiguous victimhood is merely where the moral switchback begins, as Drew, under psychiatric evaluation before sentencing for some unspecified while-intoxicated offence, asks Terry to corroborate his testimony about the childhood sexual abuse. From that point on, the brothers’ respective collections of skeletons in their closets are attempting to out-rattle each other.
But whilst dem bones click-clack, the audience is uneasily quiet through Michael Attenborough’s production on Lez Brotherston’s lush, verdant set. The silence is almost tangible during the second scene, in which Terry and a putting-green manager flirt dangerously with each other... the unease arising from the fact that she (lithe, coltish Kira Sternbach) is 15 years old. Morrissey is masterly here at showing little and allowing our apprehensions to fill the gap. The same is true of the script: in the final scene, the mere mention of a tree-house is enough to raise our goose-bumps, although in fact it is a feint which plays out in an unexpected direction. LaBute refuses to be easily dismissed, and I’m glad I was wrong. And right. Or...

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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