Everyone has a story to tell. The Dark is Nick Makoha’s story. His is a story of a childhood journey from his home in Uganda to the UK. It is a journey across a country that is under siege and extremely dangerous. It is a journey of survival, on a minibus bound for the border. It is a journey of a mother who desires a better life for her son. It is witty. It is thought-provoking. At times, it feels terribly real. As Makoha himself says, it puts ‘a face to the polarising words of refugee and immigrant’.
Featuring Michael Balogun and Akiya Henry in multiple roles, The Dark immerses you in the Ugandan culture of the 1970s. The brutality and oppressiveness of the Idi Amin regime is felt throughout. Yet this play is ultimately about the colourful characters whom Makoha and his mother meet along the way. Balogun and Henry inject such vibrancy into these people. They transition seamlessly between the different characters. It never gets confusing as to who they are portraying. Such transitioning is made even more natural by the excellent use of lighting, as well as their movement around the stage.
The set is simple enough. It features a cluster of chairs underneath a massive overhang filled with boxes and bags. This is clearly the minibus (or ‘mutatu’ in local parlance). In addition, an OHP screen and projector are to one side, keeping us updated on the times and locations of the journey. We also get to see some personal photographs of Makoha’s which flit onto the screen now and again. They act as a gentle and sobering reminder that what we are witnessing is a reconstruction of real events. This is what makes the final scenes in particular all the more powerful.
Although engaging throughout, it is in the final quarter of an hour that The Dark really grips you. With the border now well and truly in sight, the young Makoha and his mother have soldiers hot on their tail. But just as the chance of escape beckons, his mother must make a life-changing decision. It is incredibly tense. Positively gripping. But what makes it even more powerful come the end is the subsequent reaction of the UK border official towards the young Makoha. This final scene left me feeling frustrated and rather angry. And I think that’s what Makoha the writer is looking for. He wants to shake us out of our complacency. To remind us of the responsibility we have towards those who have had little choice but to leave their country of origin because of war and conflict. As such, The Dark is a timely play whose message we would do well to heed.
The Dark is Nick Makoha’s story. It is an important story for our time. It may have been made even more powerful if it immersed the audience into its world via the seats on stage. That’s where I felt I should be, compelled, as I was, by the performances of Balogun and Henry to join them on this journey. As it was, this one-act play still made an impact on me in the way that I think it was meant to. I just hope that it is seen by much bigger audiences than witnessed it here in North Wales. It is pertinent. A story that is much needed. There is a power and importance to this individual’s story that cannot be underestimated.
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