Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed 4 Oct 2017
The Adelaide city skies were covered with an abundance of murky clouds for The Dark Inn’s final performance night during the OzAsia Festival. After viewing Kuro Tanino’s latest theatre production, you cannot help but notice a departure from his notorious directorial style and creative process.
As a former psychiatrist, Tanino tends to create theatre that explores the deep recesses of the mind. Much of his work can be seen as a reflection to his experience with those who have a different, and sometimes distorted, sense of the world.
In this instance, the outcome is an exciting change, as there is a clear departure from the surrealistic style he is known for. Instead, Tanino has produced something that feels more hyper-realistic and grounded.
This is also reflected in his approach to playwriting. Typically, he uses graphic storyboards and miniature models to foster his ideas, opposed to something more traditional, like written notes or a script. But, you notice The Dark Inn uses highly poetic and expressive descriptions. This suggests that Tanino had taken a new direction that used both textual and visual elements during the play’s developing stages.
The story tells of two puppeteers (father and son), who travel to a secluded bath house in the mountains of rural northwest Japan after receiving a letter to perform their show. When the pair arrive, however, they discover that no booking was made. It is also revealed the bath house is not maintained by an owner, but instead by its patrons who are attracted to its healing properties.
From here, the pair encounter the inn’s disparate guests – an elderly woman, a blind man, two geishas and a sansuke – who all claim to be unaware of the reservation and insist there to be some kind of mistake. All of these guests become intrigued, and a little bewildered, by the duo’s sudden appearance, resulting in a strange series of events that unfold.
A clear standout of the production was the multi-level revolving set, which took us to the different sections of the hotel with every scene change. An interesting component to this was the inclusion of windows in each of these environments, as they offered a glimpse into the outside world. This allowed the viewer to have a board, and satisfying, awareness of the setting as all of their curiosities were fulfilled.
Perhaps the two hour run time with no interval though became a little tedious for the Australian audience–especially for those who are not so familiar with the Japanese language and culture. The amounts of silence between some of dialogue too felt a disconnect with viewers as it allowed them to disengage quite easily.
But in saying this, The Dark Inn presents its viewers with a challenge to unravel some of its complexities. The significance of the play isn’t straightforward and will not reveal itself to you so easily. It will persist to linger within you for days.
The Dark Inn, presented by the Adelaide Festival Centre, was performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre from 3-4 October 2017, during the Oz Asia Festival.
Reviewed by Tanner Muller