Jim Mannering’s debut play has hit the Etcetera Theatre stage as part of this year’s Camden Fringe. Prior to writing this, he has acted in several productions (as well as Falling Pennies’ On The Night); he’s a politics graduate and even turned his hand to social work before this. Dark Room, fittingly enough, is a dark comedy that will keep you guessing until the end.
At the beginning, you could be forgiven for thinking the play’s about an amateur photography club; the name and the setup are all very suggestive of this, with them talking about pictures and membership fees. But why the anonymity? It’s only when D arrives and tells the others that his favourite is Ted Bundy that things start to become clearer. It’s a club for aspiring serial killers! Together they run simulations to prepare for the day that they finally take the next step. As D appears to have doubts, will their preparations fall through?
Where Mannering’s concept and writing excels is playing the abnormal in such a recognisable, everyday scenario; C says that they “don’t have to pretend to be normal here”, so instead they find their own version of normality. The comedy is therefore very dark at times, but is made all the more interesting for it.
Lauren Moore’s design is straightforward, with chairs and tables (including one with refreshments) set up, and photos of their potential “mark” pinned up on the wall. Despite the simplicity, a couple of the scene transitions drag ever so slightly, but on the whole those inter-scene moments are used efficiently – and the show is only around an hour long anyway. They also bring in a meat hook during D’s final simulation session, which is a great visual and a signal of their intent.
A brilliant cast has been put together to play characters A-D, who each seem to represent a slightly different subsection of psychopathy.
As D, Arthur Cull seems almost relatable to begin with, his introduction to the group also allowing the audience to learn about its workings – and Rebecca Finch’s portrayal of C is almost predatory, her delight at the thought of killing is chilling but a thrill to watch. Mannering himself plays B, excelling at his volcanic outbursts and anger issues, with Roger Parkins at the other end of the scale as A – treating serial killing in a very matter-of-fact way.
My verdict? An unusual subject that actually works perfectly on the stage, with dark laughs aplenty – it keeps you guessing right up to the final scene.
Dark Room runs at Etcetera Theatre until 14 August 2017 as part of Camden Fringe. Tickets are available online or from the box office.