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Dark Noon

Tue Biering, Nhlanhla Mahlangu

fix+foxy, Glynis Henderson Productions, Pleasance Theatre Trust

Aviva Studios, Manchester

March 6-10, 2024: 1 hr 45 mins

Dark Noon at Avia Sõren Meisner
This town ain't big enough for the both of us: shoot-out at the Aviva Studios in Dark Noon. All pics: Soren Meisner

Banner showing a three star review

Factory International tells us this show is intensely theatrical, at times very funny, and about the rise of the Wild West from the perspective of the defeated, annihilated and displaced. Well – maybe, fairly, and only partly.

It started in South Africa and, though mainly created by a Danish writer, director and design team, has an African choreographer and co-director and African performers. And yes, it is a kind of history of the birth of modern America, told from a viewpoint different from that of old cinema Westerns.

The main idea of Dark Noon is a serious one – that the Europeans who colonized America had “violence in their DNA” from the dominance they achieved with the gun – but by the end you realise they’re telling us how that was exported to South Africa, too. There’s a kind of epilogue to the story, where South Africans testify to the impact the cinematic myth had on them, and the final line is that we’re seeing “an African story”… which needs to be told (as indeed it is) as much in African language and images as in English.

The parallels are clear enough: European settlers come and take the land from the natives, just like the Afrikaaners did. Gun culture can get embedded in a society… but we may want to ask whether it’s enough to say that’s all someone else’s fault, or just down to history.

The show, which uses a rectangular performance area in The Warehouse, with the audience on three sides, a projection screen on the fourth and live camera feeds from different places as pieces of set are built and dismantled while it’s going on, is technically very clever. The live-feed idea has been used before in theatre and dance, and they’ve got kit that eliminates the delay that others have found in processing the imagery.

The performers are great entertainers, and to begin with the scenes are “chapters” from a book: they white up and don blond wigs to tell the story (as it might be understood from a black South African perspective, with only films to learn from): Europeans arriving as “poor white people”, grabbing land that used to be common to all, beginning a cycle of violence, committing both cultural and literal genocide. The historical incidents follow one upon another: a slave auction, the Civil War, cowboys, the gold rush, the railroad, prostitution, growing cities, religious revivals, cheap Chinese labour, Coca-Cola, banks and bank heists, crude and vicious law enforcement… The chronology is all rather mixed up, but that’s how you see it in films, of course.

There’s participation, as members of the audience are invited initially to try some country-style folk dancing, and soon get involved in other ways. Most of them seemed to enjoy it.

But for the rest it’s rather a long sit – not far short of two hours without an interval – and, more unfortunately, it slows in pace as it goes on, as though it had to be stretched to make a full evening.

As a Fringe event at the Edinburgh Festival last year it obviously worked (and at the close of the performance I saw, it got its politically-correct standing ovation), but intensely theatrical? More an amply-resourced series of inventive sketches, hitched with a little, rather heavy, humour.

More info and tickets here


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