A Dark Place by Boreas Productions at Pleasance Courtyard is an insight into the relationship between friends, Ash and Sam, and how Sam’s mental health struggles have twisted their dynamic and strained the care between them.
Raises some key issues surrounding mental health
Advertised as a black comedy, the piece’s tone flits between sombre and humorous, showing how Sam’s mental illness begins to erode his sense of self and sanity. It mostly focuses on the inner monologue of Ash, how she copes with Sam’s episode, her fears for his life, and her struggles with the country’s flawed mental healthcare system. Ffion Jolly guides us through the show with assuredness and poise, though this collected demeanour leaves the piece lacking a true emotional peak and therefore a genuine sense of purpose. It seems unlikely that someone would remain so calm as Ash when faced with such distressing and difficult circumstances, and the piece is noticeably starved of an emotional breakthrough from her character. This unfortunately bleeds into the credibility of the friendship between the two of them.
There are promising moments when the two characters interact, creating a break from Ash’s extensive monologuing. In these scenes, they tap into more heartfelt emotion than elsewhere, though this ultimately falls flat due to the absence of a well-communicated, grounded connection between the pair. There is an excess of flashbacks used to spell the length of their friendship, rather than making this self-evident through their interactions. The awkward positioning of chairs often obscurs Jolly’s face, removing an opportunity for her to demonstrate more visibly her feelings and breaks in composure.
It is the performance of Tom Giles as Sam that stands out. He moves through panic to confidence; fear to friendly affection. The lighting changes compliment his shifts in emotion, and he utilises the space well to fit with his outbursts and nervous ramblings. This stresses the important notion that a person is not defined purely by their mental struggles, and can be as suave and comedic as they can be sad or hysterical. His vulnerability is touching at points, and he executes his battle with his own sanity very well. The writing, unfortunately, holds him back from making up for the other faults of the show. There seemed to be no meaningful direction to the play, nor a clear message we were meant to walk away with. Without a moment of catharsis or a resounding and poignant close, one was left wanting a feeling of closure and an understanding of the play’s objective.
A Dark Place raises some key issues surrounding mental health with good intentions, but is unfortunately disappointing.