The Big Dark presents a surreal look at a nightmare born from everyday pressures and anxiety. We see Janet (Rhiannon Petersen) taking a journey inside her own head, and the role is wonderfully realised.
Petersen created the show and the intimate understanding of its direction is clear in her performance. Her enormously expressive face is put to good work; it’s often the only part of her body that isn’t betraying her. Petersen’s pleadingly desperate eyes staring out as she loses control creates a connection between the audience and the performance without any sort of verbal communication.
A highly amusing co-performance is provided by the black-clad stagehand (Tristan McInnes) who, in a kabuki fashion, is involved far beyond simply moving stage dressing around. The comic relief is certainly welcome and prevents the performance from drifting into pure pathos.
Despite this, the show is intentionally quite bleak in tone. It projects the sense of a dream, swiftly turning from unsettling to pure nightmare. The familiar panic of trying to shut away unwanted thoughts is deftly presented and immediately recognisable.
The object puppetry, while entertaining, was occasionally less impressive due to a lack of the micro-gestures that help bring life to the inanimate. That said, at other times it was fantastic and supported a strong physical performance.
The Big Dark opens quite slowly, introducing the protagonist and presenting her motivations with some simple narrative devices, before sinking into the dream world that calls back to those motivations and explores their damaging impact. From there the pace accelerates, perhaps reflecting the uncontrollable nature of the psychological themes on display. It’s a remarkable performance by an emerging artist that provokes a deep introspection from an immediately engaged audience.