It’s Dark Outside – darkness depicted with a light touch

18 March 2022

A decade after its premiere, The Last Great Hunt’s acclaimed exploration of dementia is still captivating audiences, writes Claire Trolio.

It’s Dark Outside, The Last Great Hunt ·
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre WA, 17 March 2022 ·

Ten years ago the idea of watching a show about dementia felt too close to home. When local theatre collective The Last Great Hunt premiered It’s Dark Outside as a Perth Theatre Company commission back in 2012, I wasn’t ready for the heartbreak that such subject matter would elicit.

A decade later, with a regular performance history and plenty of acclaim, It’s Dark Outside is back for another season at the State Theatre Centre of WA and I’m ready to experience it for the first time.

An old man sits on a chair, a walking stick poised between his hand and the floor. From his head float three clouds, manipulated by another performer.
Clouds of stuffing drift away as memories evade the old man. In the foreground is Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs is behind her. Photo: Richard Jefferson

Using live performance, mask, puppetry, shadows and animation, The Last Great Hunt team presents an old man’s struggle with dementia… but not as you might expect. Styled as a Western, with the hero pursued by a bounty hunter gathering memories on the way to a final showdown, it’s fashioned in a way that’s both palatable and elegiacal.

Aptly It’s Dark Outside begins at dusk, referencing sundowning syndrome, the heightened confusion and restlessness that is common amongst dementia sufferers in the evening. As the old man, Arielle Gray is masked up and moves with creaks and wobbles that defy her age. Later he’s present as a puppet, manoeuvred with exactitude by the works’ three co-creators and performers, Tim Watts, Chris Isaacs and Gray.

Clouds of stuffing drift away as memories evade the old man. He’s desperate to retain them, it hurts to watch his desperation and loss. Sometimes they form shapes and we glimpse his life; a sprightly dog, a baby. Another time he dances to Peggy Lee’s “I Love Being Here With You”, atop his memory cloud. These are moments of tenderness and whimsy in a sorrowful narrative.

The trio of performers create shifts in mood through shadows, whether foreboding or light. The animation, too, is capricious and enthralling.

The old man’s facial expression is fixed in whatever guise he’s presented, yet the audience rides his sadness, fear, panic, playfulness, love and joy that the performers fluently convey in other ways; movement and body language especially.

Oh, and this is done without any words.

Which makes Rachael Dease’s soundscape a vital part of this work. Her original compositions reverberate through the theatre; at once beautiful and haunting, melancholic and romantic, gentle and powerful. Perfect for this genre, there’s a flavour of Ennio Morricone’s film scores in Dease’s floating melodies.

An old man stands outside a small white tent, brandishing a walking stick like it's a gun. In the background we can see the silhouettes of tanks, a soldier and barbed wire, as well as forks of lightning.
A story told fluently, without words. Pictured: Arielle Gray. Photo: Richard Jefferson.

Every inch of this performance is polished. It’s not tired or dated, it’s refined.

It’s Dark Outside captures the experience of dementia, not necessarily that of the patient but what it is like to look upon and love someone suffering with the disease and witness their struggle, their sadness and especially their loneliness.

And while sombre, it’s painted with a light touch.

The Last Great Hunt have packaged a tidy gift for their audience, one I’m glad I unwrapped.

It’s Dark Outside continues at the State Theatre Centre of WA until 2 April 2022.

Pictured top: Painted with a light touch. Tim Watts in ‘It’s Dark Outside’. Photo: Richard Jefferson

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Author —
Claire Trolio

Claire Trolio completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at UWA. She writes about Western Australia for various digital and print media and owns a shop with her sister. For her, the spider swing is the ultimate in playground fun.

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