The Dark @ Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Nick Makoha’s story of a journey out of of Uganda is harrowing, but leaves us confused and wanting more
Nick Makoha’s The Dark, directed by Roy Alexander Weise, is a frank autobiographical account of being taken out of wartorn Uganda in 1978, during the dictatorship of Idi Amin. In this complex two-hander, Makoha – an award-winning poet – constructs a detailed portrayal of the route he took as a four year-old when his mother helped him to escape to the UK.
Performers Michael Balogun and Akiya Henry are tasked with playing Nick and his Mother respectively, alongside a whole host of other travellers, soldiers, and airport staff who feature in Makoha’s script, which fuses lyrical monologues with direct audience address and live action scenes.
In dramatic terms the script, portraying a broken nation through the human stories of its host of characters, never really leaves the ground. So many stories are told simultaneously that we never quite find our feet, without enough time with any characters in particular to really invest in them.
While the actors’ chameleonic powers (Henry’s in particular) are undoubtedly impressive, the speed at which the characters and stories rotate leaves the piece feeling at times more like a drama school exercise than a successful piece of dramatic storytelling. Jokes don’t quite land, heartbreaking story moments aren’t particularly moving, and the poetic monologues come across, unfortunately, as more affected than affecting.
While the number of stories Makoha is trying to tell might throw us off the scent, we're ultimately presented with a sprawling portrait of a mother taking her son from a fractured Uganda to Heathrow Airport and a hopefully better, safer life. We care about Nick’s story and what he has to say, but wish we didn’t have to work so hard to find it. If The Dark is a look at a dark part of Uganda’s history, a dark part of Nick’s past, it's a darkness too deep to see through.