Preview of The Dark Room | Ken Longworth

TROUBLED TEEN: Maike Strichow as Grace, who wears a mask while hiding from people who are looking for her. Photo: Sarah Hadley
TROUBLED TEEN: Maike Strichow as Grace, who wears a mask while hiding from people who are looking for her. Photo: Sarah Hadley

NEWCASTLE playwright Vanessa Bates, who has won national awards for her works, is making her debut as the director of a full-length play with a production of an acclaimed Australian theatre work, The Dark Room.

The Dark Room, by Angela Betzien, will be staged by Stooged Theatre at Newcastle’s Civic Playhouse from August 1 to 4.

The work is set in a room in an old motel on the edge of a country town in the Northern Territory. It shows how three pairs of people who occupy the room at different times interact, and how they could possibly be connected.

The first pair seen are Anni (played by Jan Hunt), a government youth worker who is accompanied by Grace (Maike Strichow), a troubled 14-year-old girl she rescued from a hiding place under a house in the nearby desert. Grace is shaken, hurt, and set on provocation, trying anything to crack Anni’s professional facade.

The next occupants are pregnant Emma (Samantha Lambert) and her husband, country cop Stephen (Mathew Lee), who return to the motel late at night after Stephen was best man at a mate’s wedding. Stephen, who has had too much to drink, wants to head back to the celebration, but Emma doesn’t want to be left alone and is trying to talk him into going home.

Pair number three are Craig (Mark Pegler), a policeman who shot a kid in the line of duty, and who has come to the motel to try to clear his head, and Joseph (Neville Williams Boney, an indigenous teenager who walks in from the desert and knocks on the door. He has been beaten and left in the wilderness, and knows things about Craig’s past that he shouldn’t, so that their encounter moves into dangerous territory.

Angela Betzien was commissioned to write the play by Perth’s Black Swan Theatre Company, and, after its 2009 premiere, Betzien reworked the script with renowned director Leticia Caceres, who was artistic director of Newcastle youth group Tantrum Theatre from 2006 to 2008.

The play has had rave reviews in Australia and in London, where its first international production was staged in November-December, 2017.

Vanessa Bates notes that while the play is set in the Northern Territory, the characters are people who could be found anywhere.    

She says it is a beautifully written play, with humour as well as dark moments in the words and behaviour of the three-dimensional characters, and very challenging for the actors. “Audience members will also find it very suspenseful,” she says.

The Dark Room has 8pm performances nightly from Wednesday, August 1, to Saturday, August 4, plus a 2pm Saturday show. Tickets $25-$35. Bookings: 4929 1977.

Theatre Reviews


Newcastle Theatre Company, at its Lambton venue

Ends July 28

AS the title suggests, Isabel Wright’s play gives audience members peeps into the lives of the residents of four adjoining apartments in a building. It’s a brisk and enjoyable work, directed by Pearl Nunn, and with the set designed by Amy Wilde having rooms in the apartments side by side, with the walls denoted by such things as strings of glass beads. The people occasionally go into other apartments, in one case amusingly to borrow a bottle opener, and at other times wanting to see members of the opposite sex they have been attracted to. And their words and actions say a lot about them. Allison Van Gaal’s always drinking George tells hubby Ben (Carl Gregory) that she’s “entertaining” when consuming alcohol; Ben Louttit’s Richard bosses Bridget Barry’s Sharon before heading off to look at a neighbour; Belinda Hodgson’s Sarah, who has moved in with friend Kate (Milly Lambert), is uncertain about what she wants to do; and a sole occupant, Loner (Roger Ly), spends most of his time looking at an attractive woman on his hand-held computer.

The Girl with the Golden Locks

Maitland Repertory Theatre, at its venue

Ends July 28

BRIAN D. Taylor’s comedy is an amusing send-up of fairy tales, with the characters becoming figures in a James Bond-style exploit. The goodies are members of the FBI (Fairytale Bureau of Intelligence), with Agent Gold (think Goldilocks) leading others, including Agents Red, White and double-dealing Agent Wolf, in an investigation of the three Bears, and encountering others such as Jack and his elegant white Cow along the way. The production helps to develop the acting skills of its two alternating casts, with directors Zac Smith and Emma Ure keeping them engagingly on the move.