‘Dr Darkling’s Device’ was supposedly a play set in a future in which dreams are prohibited, with the ‘Psi-Police’ monitoring any illegal dream fabrication. John Lang’s character Dr Darkling is allegedly an outlaw who has created a machine which can fabricate dreams. I’m using words like ‘allegedly’ and ‘supposedly’ here because this is what little understanding I gleaned from the programme, sad to say none of this fairly complicated but interesting plot was communicated to the audience.
This sounds harsh I accept, but I'm afraid I can’t really end by giving any positives.
The play began with a few magic tricks performed by the silent character of Dr Darkling; unfortunately a few of these went wrong but at this point I forgave him that, it was early on and surely could only get better. However it turned out this was probably the high point of the play and it proceeded to disintegrate from here. A one-man production in which Lang had one line, it relied heavily on rather poor technical elements such as voice overs and sound effects. But when there was music in the background, the movements of Lang made more sense; it was during the totally silent scenes in which Lang, for no apparent reason, moonwalked and shimmied around stage that it all began to get a little nightmarish. The ‘physical theatre’ element mentioned in the programme was a term, I now realise, which was loosely used to define the peculiar body ripples and Mexican waves that the dumb-founded audience witnessed.
I’m an open minded person, I’ve seen my fair share of unusual interpretive dance, physical theatre pieces and bizarre contortions. However, these experiences have all had a purpose and drive: a plot. So far I have mentioned a lot of criticisms of this piece, but all these things (even the disturbing octopus arms) could be excused if there was a reason for them, if they made sense in the story. I haven’t given any context for when these ‘dances’ were used because I can’t. I don’t understand why or at what point in the storyline these bizarre undulations became necessary and considering the play was made up solely of them it’s difficult to really talk about anything else. It’s this that for me is the greatest flaw. Without a clear motivation, especially given it was a one-man play, it feels self-indulgent and arrogant, so the play becomes all about Lang showing off his strange flexibility and passion for body rippling (to truly understand these moves please watch the trailer on High Hat Theatre’s website).
Perhaps there was a deeper political message about the constriction of individuality within our society, or the repression of dreams and ambitions in youth – I was certainly expecting there to be given the clear potential the story had in the programme – but sad to say I either missed it, or it got lost in the ‘John Lang Show’ celebrating his ability to prance around stage and talk to boiled eggs. Don’t ask me to explain the relevance of the egg, I have no clue but apparently they played a big role, just not quite big enough to be seen past Lang’s ego.
This sounds harsh I accept, but I'm afraid I can’t really end by giving any positives, I truly struggle to find any. I suppose the fact I was drawn there, the curiosity the blurb sparked in me is a positive, the potential this plot had to go places and explore interesting themes is a credit to High Hat Theatre. But I’m afraid Dr Darkling certainly left me in the dark.