In a Dark Dark House @ Almeida Theatre, London

cast list
Steven Mackintosh, David Morrissey, Kira Sternbach

directed by
Michael Attenborough
The prolific Neil LaBute seems to have been omnipresent in London in 2008.

In a Dark Dark House is the fourth new play of his to be staged here this year, following on from Helter Skelter/Land of the Dead at the Bush and Fat Pig at the Trafalgar Studios (recently transferred to the Comedy Theatre)

This fifth work by LaBute to be produced at the Almeida is apparently his most personal, delving as it does into dark secrets buried in the past, and feels almost confessional in tone, but assured direction from Michael Attenborough (who also helmed The Mercy Seat) prevents it from becoming too much like drama therapy.
In a Dark Dark House reveals another jaundiced view on the treachery of human relationships, with plenty of barbed humour, but here the focus is not as usual on male/female sexuality but on sibling rivalry. It opens with Terry visiting his estranged younger brother Drew in the grounds of a psychiatric institution, where he is undergoing therapy following a drink-driving accident. Drew, a lawyer turned wealthy company owner, wants security guard Terry to confirm to his psychiatrist that they were both sexually abused by an older friend when they were children, which he claims is the root cause of his problems.

A womanizing alcoholic, Drew is desperate to save his marriage and not receive a prison sentence, but by opening this can of worms he re-awakens painful memories in Terry, who was also beaten by their father. Terry goes in search of the paedophile and finds his attractive 15-year-old daughter Jennifer, who manages her small-businessman father’s miniature golf course, where he is tempted to take revenge for the damage he has done.

This tense tale of fraught fraternal/paternal relationships, where violence and vulnerability co-exist in a male environment in which emotion can be seen as weakness and a hug can turn into a punch, seems very much Sam Shepard territory but LaBute brings his own distinctive perspective to such a dysfunctional family situation. This expos of long-term and deep-lying trauma starts slowly but builds to a devastating climax. The revelations may seem a bit contrived, and the audience may feel slightly manipulated, yet after all the twists and turns, when the exploitation and deception have been revealed, we reach an uneasy but cathartic emotional truth.

The strong impact of the play lies in the fraught and fluctuating relations between the two brothers, played with persuasive power by David Morrissey and Steven Mackintosh. Morrissey convincingly shows the insecurity of the apparently solid Terry, whose intense anger comes bubbling up when his repressed feelings are released, while Mackintosh’s compulsive liar Drew deceives himself as much as others with his subversion of the truth.

While there is no easy reconciliation between them, these two terrific physical performances show the brothers share a better understand of each other better by the end. Kira Sternbach also impresses as Jennifer, suggesting an appealing mixture of naivety and sassiness, as she plays a dangerous game with Terry. This is compelling drama.

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