Q Theatre, performed and filmed, livestreamed, Global

11/03/2022 - 13/03/2022

Auckland Arts Festival | Te Ahurei Toi O Tāmaki 2022

Production Details

Written by Carl Bland
Directed by Ben Crowder, Carl Bland

Nightsong Productions

“Why God chose me to save the world is a f*****g mystery.” — Noah (of the Ark)

What would you do if you met your exact double? What would happen if this double started following you? Forced his way into your life? Started to take it over?

The story is a page turner. A thriller full of surprises. A wicked, funny, and unpredictable ride as we watch someone’s life unravel. Where they are forced to face the truth. What happened to that small innocent child we once were? What shapes us into the person we all become?

A Stab in the Dark uses extraordinary giant puppets, evocative film noir imagery, and a set that’s so tilted our characters have to hang on for dear life. It is dark. Absurdly funny. Visually beautiful. You’ll be on the edge of your seats as you watch good and evil battle it out.

Due to the current climate, A Stab in the Dark will be presented digitally, as an innovative and multidisciplinary live-streamed event.

“We feel incredibly fortunate to still be able to share this work with our audience. The filmic elements within the show, and the highly visually nature of the work has lent itself to this hybrid style of presentation.” — Nightsong

Digital World Premiere
Friday 11 March 2022, 8.00pm
Performed and filmed at Q Theatre, Auckland
Streaming Online Fri 11 – Sun 13 March 2022

Contains strong language and violent themes

A STAB IN THE DARK explained

A Stab in the Dark is an attempt to try to understand why people do bad things. Why they commit terrible acts of violence? Is evil part of human nature? A common thread for this behaviour is a lack of empathy. An inability to feel for their victims. And a sense of injustice. That the world has rejected them. Doesn’t care about them. And yet there are lots of examples of people killing someone they profess to love.

So on to the story. I have tried to create a narrative that constantly surprises the audience. To make it a page turner. The reasoning being the stronger the story grips you, the more daring you can be in the telling of it.  A Stab in the Dark deliberately uses several very aesthetically opposed mediums. A giant puppet, an actor playing two characters that look the same. A woman who mysteriously we never quite see. Throughout the play we catch glimpses of her. Her arms at dinner. The side of her face in the hallway. Her power is in her voice and the stories she tells.

We also have an episodic beautifully crafted filmed sequence of the Noah story. A ridiculous giant fly, low tech props. A combination of three- dimensional objects and two-dimensional ones. How can these all live in a world that we can believe in? In a world we can become emotionally invested in. The wonder, and the magic is that they can, because we are caught up in the story. We want to know what happens next. And these aesthetic opposites help amplify the central themes within it. The fragmented central character. The complexity of human nature. The struggle we all have with our own identity.  These elements become integrated and wholly essential within the story.

One of the ways I think the work is innovative is the way it’s created. There isn’t the usual script; then set. All the visual elements are thought of and put on the page at the same time as the words. Each have equal importance. Each help tell the story. Often when people first read the script, they only hear the words and can’t imagine the pictures. So are unaware of the power of this multi-layered approach. Each moment in the play is experienced through words, pictures and sound. Each is carefully crafted like layers of paint. There is a lot of precision in this. From experience this approach makes the play linger in your thoughts. Makes the emotional impact resonate longer.

A Stab in the Dark’s central theme is Good and Evil. It’s bold. Deliberately using opposing visual techniques and performance styles. It is very dark and very funny.

What is its conclusion?  Beware of self-obsession. How easily we distort. How easily that person you stare at in the mirror can tell you lies; can make you justify anything. Seems to me this is an important truth. Especially in a contemporary world that offers so many opportunities for us to become transfixed by our own image. But there is also Hope. If you can tear yourself away from yourself you’ll find love has been calling your name.

— Carl Bland

Performed and filmed at Q Theatre, livestreamed, Auckland

Theatre , Puppetry , Physical , Live stream ,

1hr 15min no interval.

An intriguingly dramatised meditation on the good/evil duality within individuals and our species

Review by John Smythe 12th Mar 2022

There is a body of thought that we all have an identical twin out there somewhere. I, in fact, do, and we have always known each other. But the theory is that while the genes of all humans are 99.5% the same, it stands to reason some stranger out there (with a totally different whakapapa) will share the other .5%, will happen to be of the same age and it is always possible the twain shall meet.

Then there is a the ‘good v evil’ twin trope and the proposition that we all have a good and evil self within us. And that we all lie to ourselves, let alone everyone else, about who we really are and what we are capable of.

This is the territory of the heart and mind Carl Bland explores with A Stab in The Dark. Narratively the play is structured as an interrogation. Unlike Gary Henderson’s taut and minimalist An Unseasonable Fall of Snow, which doesn’t use flashbacks, Bland and co-director Ben Crowder, with an impressive design and production team, employ large and small puppets, a multi-trap doored round table and various props and filmic devices to dramatise the present situation and tease out recollections of past events in our shared quest for the ‘truth’.   

It’s tempting to think they want to subvert our emotional involvement to achieve a Brechtian alienation effect, so that we objectively focus on the psycho-social implications and credibility of the unfolding story. But it’s just as valid to think the huge, craggy, mustachioed Interrogator puppet – created by Jon Coddington, manipulated by him and Milo Cawthorne and voiced by Bland – is a subjective manifestation of how he is seen by John, played in the flesh by Joel Tobeck. Likewise his sense of self is manifest in the tiny puppet who appears when Tobeck becomes his bespectacled doppelganger, Warren, and vice versa when Warren shrinks in comparison to John. John and Warren also appear in black & white film inserts (DOP, Ralph Brown).

John, whom the Interrogator believes is Warren, has been detained for questioning on suspicion he has murdered a woman called Ann, Warren’s wife. The subjectivity and questionability of John’s account of what happened limits Anne to a mostly sensuous voice and the odd visible digit or limb. Nevertheless Alison Bruce gives us plenty to conjure with to make her a whole person – albeit filtered through the ambivalent perspective of a man in the grip of a paranoid fantasy.

Joel Tobeck meets the enormous challenge of navigating moods of his contrapuntal personae with great skill, given most of it is played out in real time. Even interacting with pre-recorded selves and others, as well as the puppets, brings challenges. Whether they are feeling gentle or harsh, angry or loving, scared or relaxed, bewildered or certain, sometimes switching in an instant, Tobeck’s John and Warren are totally present in each moment. The sensuous scenes with Alison Bruce powerfully offset the testosterone-riddled scenes between John and Warren.

Bland’s script plays wittily with such common phrases as “couldn’t hurt a fly”, “had time to kill” and “arrived dead on time”. It is also peppered with gems of random knowledge, not least from the childlike innocence of a small, unadorned puppet – voiced by Roman Foster – who variously declares themselves to be a sandpiper, a crocodile, a caterpillar, an elephant … each with a fascinating fact to impart. The loss of innocence and the quest to recover it threads throughout the play.

To help his themes resonate through the entirety of human history, Bland adds the over-arching perspective of the mythical biblical Noah, chosen by God to “save the world” (or rather its living creatures) – for what? The microcosm of the John/ Warren duality exemplifies the nature of so-called humanity in a way that leaves Noah with a guilty conscience. He is impressively rendered, on film, by Dave Fane. It’s just a shame that his subtly nuanced introspections often have to battle with a loud and imposing soundtrack. (I listen through stereo ear buds and while I get the gist of what he is saying, crashing chords and sound effects too often obliterate words and syllables, leaving me to second-guess what I’ve missed.)

For all that’s been lost by the digital transfer to screen of a show that was made to be presented live with AV input, I’m guessing some values have been added. The opening sequence, for example, in which John Gibson’s primordial music heralds the emergence of a glowing circle that could be a sun or a blood moon, establishing the themes of counterpointing ambiguity, then turns out to be the flame of a ‘brief candle’, is a fine example of screen art.  

There are some odd bits. The random popping up of bunny ears when the Interrogator says he’s “all ears” is a cheap gag that’s out of kilter with the narrative voice. The way people are seated vertically at the horizontally segmented round table may make sense as different ‘camera angles’ but in wide shot, when the middle person turns back to address the top one, all logic is lost for me. And Ann’s bare arms and hands on the table at the bottom of frame seem completely disassociated from what her voice is saying and expressing.

By recalling the magic of previous Nightsong productions – e.g. 360, Te Pō, Mr Red Light – experienced live in full theatres, I can imagine how different it might have been had we seen it in a packed Q Theatre. While A Stab in the Dark doesn’t quite get under my skin when witnessed on a computer screen,* it is an intriguingly dramatised meditation on the Good/Evil duality within individuals and our species which is only too apparent in today’s news.

[All listings suggest A Stab in the Dark only remains available online today (Saturday) and tomorrow until 11.50pm.]
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*(It wouldn’t cast onto our TV set but there is an icon to click for that.) 


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