An ambitious retelling of the birth of the United States, Dark Noon succeeds not only in highlighting the internal strife inflicted in America, but the social ramifications of the American experiment around the world.
Image Credit: Søren Meisner
Dark Noon has made life hard for itself by attempting to tackle a subject matter as vast as the entire United States. At 100 minutes, it has a little bit more time to do so thanmost shows on at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, but still, the ability to incorporate so much pain, so many voices and do so with originality and authenticity is breathtaking.
The journey from the first European settlers arriving to the brutal colonisation that followed to America into the 20th century happens seamlessly. So much is going on at every second in Dark Noon that you could be looking in five different places at once, the production almost overwhelming you between the various corners of the stage and the screen above it.
It’s a perfect space for a play so ambitious, in the basement of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. The audience sits on three sides (almost like an immersive fashion show, especially as the costumes chop and change) of a large earth-coloured square that represents America. This land plays host to the majority of the action, though a projector screen above features a mixture of monologues and secondary angles of the play as it unfolds, the magnificent cast lending to their hand to filming in parts.
Even when not on screen, there is a very cinematic feel to Dark Noon. It often takes the piss out of spaghetti-westerns, looking at the romanticised nature of the American frontier and wild west and presenting it in this own unique, absurdist but frankly more truthful way.
“They say history is told by the victors,” the show’s tagline reads. “In Dark Noon, the story is told by the vanquished.”
Both the oppressor and the oppressed are played by a cast of seven South Africans. Though much of the show is spent portraying people different to them – the use of chalk as ‘white face’ and bad blonde wigs some of Dark Noon’s many comical touches – there is plenty of room for the individual personalities of the actors to shine through, particularly in the finale.
Director Tue Biering and co-director and choreographer Nhlanhla Mahlangu also succeed in making a play about this most serious of topics incredibly amusing. At times, it seems the audience is almost hesitant to laugh out loud, as if the comic touches could in fact be an accident and white laughter would cause offence, but it is absolutely by design.
Also by design is the gradual, subtle construction of America before your very eyes. Structures add and add to the land as Dark Noon approaches the present day. Interestingly, the sets accumulate, the cast never removing any of the structures that are added, potentially referencing the unwavering, doubtless, blind confidence of America’s quest for what it deems ‘progress’.
It’s easy to forget, until something like Dark Noon reminds you, how recently human life became as precious a commodity as it is nowadays. It’s arresting how much death there is and how little life matters, and that was the case for so much of America’s history. Given the guns, then and now, you could say it still is. It’s cruel, unforgiving and ultimately survival is as arbitrary as it is skillful.
Dark Noon is playing at the EICC until 27 of August.