"Some laughs in the dark"
by Christopher Adams for remotegoat on 26/09/10

In Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy, a blown fuse upsets the carefully laid plans of artist Brindsley (Joel Kirkpatrick), leading to a series of lies, traps, and farcical revelations. Brindsley is engaged to Carol Melkett (Amanda Merchant) and is expecting the immanent arrival of collector and billionaire George Bamberger (Richard Niman). But when the lights go out, a cast of characters including Brindsley's not-quite-ex Clea (Anna Afanasyev), his tee-totaling neighbor Miss Furnival (Teresa Mahoney), and Carol's militant father (Donal Cox) stumble into the room, setting off a comic chain of events in Palladini Productions' performance of Black Comedy at the Freehold Theatre, a converted space in the Freehold Community Centre.

The stage at the Freehold is small--the set squeezing into, as George Meyrick's character Schuppanzigh describes, 'the space of a matchbox', but the production uses the tight area to increase the constant physical slapstick as characters stumble over furniture and each other in the dark. Scene in 'darkness' are fully lit, allowing the audience to experience the complete reality of the stage business, providing comic opportunity in the disparity of what is said by characters unable to see anyone else in the room. For scenes involving light (candles, cigarette lighters, torches), the stage lights go off, and production assistants in the audience shine torches on stage. As a device, it's creative but cumbersome and results in a patter of clicking every time someone on stage lights a match.

Saima Duhare's direction is straightforward and relies on constant stage movement, which is entertaining to watch but sometimes glosses over opportunities for the play's wit to emerge. Though the comedy as a whole tends toward the tepid, the production contains some well-crafted performances. Most notable is Cox as Colonel Melkett, whose peacock-like parading as Carol's perpetually offended father provides several laughs. He berates Brindsley as having 'no basic efficiency' and huffs and puffs across stage in a show of attempting to fix the situation. Cox is also adept at physical comedy, with a particularly spectacular fall out of a rocking chair. A nod should also go to David Niman as the affected (read: gay, though this is never stated openly) antique dealer Harold Gorringe. In his final candle-grasping stomp across stage, Niman conveys openly and honestly Harold's real feelings for Brindsley, a shade of subtlety to relationships which otherwise remain on the surface throughout the play's one act.

Black Comedy from Palladini Productions makes good use of space, and its brisk running time (80 minutes) includes several hearty laughs.

Other recent reviews by Christopher Adams
Lean
'Lean' Cooks Up Good Show by Christopher Adams
Darkness
Gripping portrait of religious fundamentalism by Christopher Adams
Peter
Interesting concept, but undercooked script by Christopher Adams
Edward II by Christopher Marlowe
Taut, compelling staging of classic by Christopher Adams
The Heretic
Unsatisfying look at climate change by Christopher Adams