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Auckland Arts Festival Online – A Stab in the Dark

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

A Stab in the Dark

Nightsong Productions

Written by Carl Bland

Directed by Ben Crowder and Carl Bland

Online until March 13 at http://www.aaf.co.nz

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Nightsong’s “A Stab in the Dark” opens with the Old Testament Noah  moaning, “Why God chose me to save the world is a fucking mystery?” We never really get to deal with Noah’s question but there are lots of other ambiguities and mysteries to be explored.

With “A Stab in the  Dark” there is a melding of two interpretations of the phrase. The main plot line is about a stabbing which has occurred and the police investigation into the murder. Another less specific part of the narrative is around the notion of the  random stab in the dark, where we make choices or decisions which are just as likely to fail as succeed.

The main character John (Joel Tobeck) is accused of murdering Ann (Alison Bruce) and much of the work focuses on his interview with the police in which he tells of meeting his doppelganger Warren who invites him to dinner where he meets Ann, Warren’s wife.

After a short affair with Ann which is discovered by Warren Ann is killed and Warren disappears. Just who is the killer is a bit murky.

However, this is a Surrealist/Absurdist drama in the tradition of Ionesco or Beckett so neither story or staging follows traditional presentation. The interviewing police officer is a large puppet, several times the size of John and towers over him during questioning. Various elements of the production are outsize such as a large glass of water, a fly twice the size of John’s head, a metre long cigarette and  a giant pen.

Alongside the main plot line, we encounter Noah and his story of the Deluge as well as a wooden puppet who informs us that it is  by turns a sandpiper, a crocodile, a caterpillar / butterfly and a peacock. The symbolism of these events and animals never really becomes clear but does  provide for some  philosophical and psychological ruminating. The play can be seen as an inquiry into the nature of the psychotic as well as dealing with the issues of guilt and innocence, trust and lies, reality and illusion

The play would normally have been on stage but with this Covid era production the creators have used other theatrical techniques such as  Noh Theatre and film noir gives the work a visual density which is mesmerizing.

The set which is just a large circular panel is ingeniously used as a podium, a table and a screen which along with the puppets give the play a disconcerting appearance where everything is tilted, on edge and bizarre.

Joel Tobeck gives a compelling performance as he switches between his two characters as well as being presented in a filmed version of John. Ann played by Alison Bruce is only partially and  fleetingly seen but adds a nice dimension to the work. Carl Bland voices the  giant police inspector with a commanding, overbearing tone and Dave Fane, the puzzling Noah.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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