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Theatre Review: It s Dark Outside
It's Dark Outside at the Studio Underground. Picture: Richard Jefferson.

As our lives extend, the manifestations of our long declines come from the shadows. Dementia, Alzheimer's, memory loss and sundowning syndrome (the specific subject of this play) are fearsome, insidious blights on so many lives.

The team of Tim Watts, Arielle Gray and Chris Isaacs tackle these demons head-on in It's Dark Outside. The result is a rare triumph of theatrical ingenuity and human compassion.

An old man (Gray performs behind a mask) gingerly takes his seat and gropes for a mug of tea that, inexplicably, isn't where he thought he left it. It breaks on the floor, and he tries to drink from its shards. The sun is going down, and his connection with present reality is setting with it.

In the gloom, he goes wandering, and strange and wonderful things happen.

His landscape becomes the wild west of his youthful imagination, a tent becomes his horse, a cloud his dog.

His steps are followed by a moon shadow, a dark shape with a butterfly net. Is it death and oblivion, or is it his memory of himself as a boy?

When he rises from the tent of his dreams on the "zs" of sleep, while a music box tinkles Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the stars are brilliant tears. The music in his head forms into a song, the only words in the play: "I'll be your light/when it's dark outside". It's ineffably sad, and deeply, gently, moving.

I must emphasise what thrilling entertainment this is, because I'd hate you to be discouraged by its sombre subject matter. Watts and his colleagues play in the theatre of ideas, and they stand or fall on their inventiveness.

It's Dark Outside has a dazzling multitude of both. The cloud dog is a superbly created delight; a dance to Peggy Lee's I Love Being Here With You, so sweet and sly it drew spontaneous applause from the audience.

So often, if it weren't so sad, it would be easy to laugh at the quirky brilliance of it all.

None of this will surprise anyone who saw Watts and co's hugely successful The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer. Their ability to play with shapes, sizes, silhouettes and sound effects remains just as impressive, but It's Dark Outside is a much more coherent and powerful piece than its predecessor.

The tenderness with which the performers manipulate their puppets and the eloquence of the narrative is outstanding, while Rachael Dease's lovely music and Anthony Watts' memorable sets and gadgetry contribute greatly to the play’s achievement.

There's a touch of genius about these young artists, and it's on display in this, the highlight of the Perth stage so far this year.

It's Dark Outside ends on July 14.