The Dark, Ovalhouse

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by Romy Foster

The Dark is an exhilarating and personal journey through the dusty backroads of Uganda in 1979. Jumping between then and present day, Michael Balogun tenderly tells author Nick Makoha’s story of how he and his mother escaped the terror of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s reign and crossed the border heading for the UK when he was four years old.

We enter a dimly lit space, somewhat resembling dusk. Balogun (playing present day Nick) welcomes us and opens the story, telling us to close our eyes and imagine we are him. He leads us to The Old Uganda Bus Station. It is quiet, tense and you get an uneasy feeling that the that the road to freedom is not going to be an easy one.

Makoha’s previous work is mostly poetry, and this shines through in his script. The text is elegant and almost lyrical, detailing the thoughts, feelings, scents and scenes of multiple people and the African landscape. It is a two-person play and Akiya Henry particularly shines as she demonstrates sophisticated, believable and comical multi-rolling. Both herself and Balogun play the other 12 characters on the bus that is driving them towards Busia, Kenya.

Though the cast is small, this production packs a big punch. Expertly directed by Roy Alexander Weise, the set and props are peppered with little homages to Africa, from the kikoys to the chewsticks. Henry and Balogun change locations by subtly manipulating the small set consisting of a few bus seats, a hanging structure holding statement pieces of characters costume, a projector and chalkboard. The minimalist set is not a defining feature; we are often plunged into darkness listening to just the voices of the actors painting the atmosphere for us with words: ‘The undiluted dark reveals nothing but the path just in front of us. My mother has me on her back now. From behind, there are screams like a cat crying or a live chicken being skinned, then silence.’

This is a unique, engaging and thought-provoking piece of theatre which honours Nick Makoha’s mother and gives a voice to the refugees of this country.

The Dark runs through 1 December.

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