Review: In a Dark Dark House, Almeida Theatre

Thursday 27 November 2008

The Whingers have very few secrets left. Oh, it’s true that they know the locations of some dark, dark bars which they will never share with their clamouring, clamouring public; places where they can enjoy a bottle of red, red wine uninterrupted by the constant, constant throng of fans and celebrity hangers-on.

And Phil knows secret, secret things about Andrew that he wouldn’t dream of sharing with the world: he has after all seen him swilling his undie(sirables) in a Frankfurt hotel bathtub; he knows what Andrew looked like before his operation; and that Andrew’s middle name is Margaret. But he would never, never tell.

But the secrets unravelled in Neil La Bute’s In a Dark Dark House at the Almeida are altogether more controversial. Let’s set aside the fraternal betrayal, deceit and child abuse for a moment and focus on the most controversial matter: shouldn’t In a Dark Dark House actually read In a Dark, Dark House ? Surely there’s a comma missing. The Whingers are quite punctilious about grammar and punctuation in (other people’s) work. Who can forget the scandalous omission of the comma from Lady, Be Good at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre last year?

Anyway, Terry (David Morrissey) and Drew (Steven Mackintosh) are brothers who lead very different lives but are brought together in circumstances which force them to dredge up episodes from their pasts that they would prefer to leave hidden.

Now the Whingers try not to do spoilers and the impact of In a Dark, Dark House (see what we’ve done there with NLB’s punctuation?) depends on not knowing too much about the revelations that unfold throughout the play. But one thing Andrew and Phil were very excited about and eager to discuss at the end was the innovative introduction of live, on-stage Crazy Golf. We kid you not.2006_08_windmill

Phil was so thrilled that he has set aside his thesis on “Food Consumption On Stage – Metaphor or Madness?” and is starting another about on stage games and sports. He has already analysed the home-made board game from Living Together, the squash game in Gethsemane (which had the added bonus of drinking wine on the squash court) and the breathtaking logistics of the poker game in Dealer’s Choice).

But back to the miniature golf. How did they do it? What happens if the actors miss their first shot into the windmill? Is the designer lying under the stage throwing the balls out of the right holes? And what happens if an actor misses his or her second shot or accidentally gets it in in one? Is the script adapted for each combination? Or is it all done with mirrors? The Whingers want answers.

But back to the more mundane aspects of the play itself. IAD,DH begins unpromisingly. With a park bench, in fact; which of course made Phil’s hackles rise before the poor actors got a chance to do anything.

Mackintosh and Morrissey don’t seem to be quite as American as the script calls for and the dialogue is heavily peppered with phrases of the “Cool. Thanks, bro.”, “goddam”, “dude”, “buddy” and “What do I gotta do? What do I gotta say” variety. To be fair, this is a deliberate device on the part of Mr LaBute but that doesn’t make it any less irritating.

Nevertheless, it’s a pretty dreary opening and grates for longer than desirable. It’s not until the Lolita figure Kira Sternbach turns up in the second act that the play takes off. She is very convincingly American, possibly because she is American. She also knows how to deliver punch and sass and – amazingly for an American – has a good line in light sarcasm.

Engagement-wise, IAD,DH turns out to be the exact inverse of Speed-the-Plow: both have three acts played without interval and both feature first and last scenes featuring (mainly) two American men and a middle scene with one man and a woman. The big difference is that in S-T-P the middle scene featuring the woman let the play down whereas here it’s the best scene of the play (and not just because of the Crazy Golf).

Anyway, the whole thing is admirably played out in 1 hour 45 minutes and it does pick up to become not only interesting but thought-provoking. Even the Whingers were provoked into thinking.

The designer’s very verdant garden/Crazy Golf course sets are cleverly lit by Howard Harrison.

But back to the Crazy Golf. This was an exciting moment in the history of theatre – almost as exciting as the vogue for on-stage vomiting which sadly has tailed away since its heyday of God of Carnage, Fram and Her Naked Skin (whoever thought we would end up looking back fondly on Fram?)

We look forward to more on-stage Crazy Golf and call on all playwrights to write such a scene into any play they might currently be working on. Trust us; it’s the bright, bright future of the theatre.


Andrew had taken along his video camera in the hope that Mr LaBute would be there so that we could inaugurate our planned series of video exclusives based on the well-known Push-a-Playwright game but sadly he was nowhere to be seen. Director Mr Michael Attenborough was in attendance behind the Whingers and chuckled along heartily, possibly while trying to read Andrew’s notes but he was on a hiding to nothing there as even Andrew can’t read them.

Anyway, perhaps it’s for the best as we’re not sure that Mr LaBute is that pushable:


9 Responses to “Review: In a Dark Dark House, Almeida Theatre”

  1. sandown Says:

    Mr LaBute was there on Monday, and he is on the large size, so is probably not pushable.

    What the Americans call Pitch and Putt or “crazy golf” is what normal people call clock golf. The Whingers may have noticed that the clock-flag over the onstage hole depicted the number 13. Ominous … or inaccurate horology?

    You’ll have to travel to Islington to find out.

  2. I’ve never heard an American refer either to pitch & putt or crazy golf, which are quite different variants (and clock golf a third); what I’ve most often heard is “miniature golf” (which can encompass both the latter two, but probably not p&p). The published playtext refers to the green seen onstage as part of a “putt-putt” course, which according to Wikipedia should have initial capitals and is a trademark.

    I don’t have it to hand, but I’m pretty sure the first press release(s) to announce the play included a comma in its title, which subsequently vanished; I have memories of having to go in an edit the entry in Theatre Record’s listings database.

  3. adaircoffey Says:

    actually, we call it ‘putt-putt’ golf…and the name can vary depending on the part of the country you are in…

    now, can we go back to focusing on the play?

  4. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    “…now, can we go back to focusing on the play?”

    And ruin this site’s raison d’etre?

  5. Dear Whingers

    So, come on, tell me how you get that fancy little TV screen to embed in your blog? I want one!

  6. harveypenguin Says:

    David Morrissey’s American accent is vaguely reminiscent of Christopher Walken in that video. Does it sound like that for the whole show?

  7. webcowgirl Says:

    Well, I am completely in agreement with you about the middle act being the best part of the play, and wasn’t Kira a peach? But as to the real meat of the discussion: we call it miniature golf, Putt Putt, and Crazy Golf (all the better if there are dinosaurs and castles on the golf course), and the windmills set piece was perfect (much like the running time, and quite unlike Drew’s “dude/bro” dialog/lect).

  8. Whatthefcukwasthatabout? Says:

    Can someone please explain the ending.. I didn’t get it. Seriously, not one of our 14 strong theatre group got it and some of them are teachers. Don’t worry about ruining the last scene, most people were asleep by that point anyway. Thanks.

  9. Jason Says:

    I will say that in my universe ‘Pitch and Putt’ is specifically a short-course game, involving actual clubs and stuff. All holes are 3 par, and there are no windmills or clocks involved, unless you are trying to finish before happy hour is done.

    I found every single utterance of ‘dude’ and ‘bro’ completely forced, and couldn’t buy Drew’s character at all, which pretty effectively dampened any impact he might have had on me. I really liked it when he cracked in scene three, but the whole play could have been full of that kind of dynamic and simply wasn’t, which I found disappointing.

    Kira was pretty much the same character as the girl in Fat Pig – same voice, same mannerisms, but like the pre-obese teenage version who didn’t have to think twice about wearing those shorts.

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