Certain Dark Things @ Underbelly, Edinburgh

cast list
Miren Alcala, Seirilol Davies, Kate Hewitt, Javier Lavin, Rosamond Martin, Inigio Ortega Martinez, Fran Moulds, Roger Ribo

directed by
Emily Watson Howes
Washing is strung from the ceiling; rows of sheets and underthings hang limply in the stiff summer heat. From somewhere in the corner comes the gently jagged sound of a cello and a woman’s low melodic moan; music from a deep place.

This is Bilbao and the year is 1959, though the upheaval of the 60s feels a long way off in every sense.

Franco is in power and here, in this hot place, the women bash and slap their laundry in buckets, with a sweat-shine on their foreheads and a crucifix at their throats.

Certain Dark Things is an intricate and layered devised piece from You Need Me, the company behind last year’s elegant How It Ended.
Director Emily Watson Howes understands that what is not said and not shown is as significant as what is. The play is divided into two halves. The first half is set in the fifties and, through music and movement, carefully creates a claustrophobic world where certain things must stay hidden in order for people to survive.

Though his parents hope he will soon marry a local girl, Mikel is involved in an intense and erotically charged relationship with Inaki; they grasp for each other behind closed doors, tearing at clothing, holding each other, a violence of wanting.

Then there is a brief interval (which inconveniently requires the audience to file out of the space only to be called back in a few minutes later), but this break is necessary, as in the second half events have leapt forwards to the 1970s. The world has changed and Mikel is living another life in Madrid. He has a wife now and a job in the city but he bears the marks of the past. He has not returned home in years and it is only fears for his mother’s health that finally compel him to make that journey,

Staged in the round and performed by an international company of actors Basque, Spanish, Catalan and British Certain Dark Things is sometimes stronger on atmospherics than it is on narrative but it has a hypnotic quality and Roger Ribo is compelling as Mikel, a man accustomed to burying things deep within himself in order to survive. This is an intelligent, involving piece of theatre that parallels this forbidden relationship with the suppression of the Basque culture under Franco while never oversimplifying the world it is portraying.

Though sometimes the play could stand to be more coherent, this is devised theatre at its most successful full of small moving moments that one carries away: the two men’s desperate, near devouring embrace of one another or the moment when Mikel’s aging father gently rebuttons his wife’s cardigan for her.

More coverage of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe on the musicOMH blog

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