JOYCE MCMILLAN on GOING DARK at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 15.11.11
4 stars ****
LIKE THE AUDIENCE at a planetarium, we sit in a darkened, circular space, specially created on the Traverse stage, and gaze upward at a ceiling full of images of the night sky. We see Cassiopeia, Pegasus, Orion; and John Mackay, the solo performer in this new 75-minute show by the London-based group Sound & Fury, is our lecturer and guide, an astronomer imparting both his knowledge, and his sense of wonder at the sheer size and magic of the universe.
It soon becomes clear, though, that this tour of the Milky Way is not the only journey on which we have embarked; because the speaker has just been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease of the eyes which will soon – perhaps very soon – leave him blind. Over an increasingly poignant hour, we see him struggle to find ways of continuing his job at the planetarium; but also, most crucially, to carry on caring, as a single Dad, for his six-year-old son Leo, present only as a series of recorded conversations that perfectly capture the pure joy, and the incessant demands, of dealing with a bright young child busy making his own discoveries about the universe around him.
Sound & Fury is a company which exists to enhance awareness of sound, as an element of life and performance; and there are times when this show seems a bit too obvious in its good intentions, and too determined to impart what may or may not be little-known facts. In Hattie Naylor’s text, though, the central relationship between father and son shines so brightly – literally as a beacon in the gathering darkness of the space – that it suffuses the whole play with a rich and glowing emotional depth; and draws a beautiful performance from Mackay, as a clever man coming to terms with a terrible loss, and finding that there is a still a rich world of experience to be treasured, beyond the limits of sight.