This new play by Zodwa Nyoni could be a little sharper pacing wise but it is still a thoughtful and compassionate look at family, racism and discrimination.
This family drama by Zodwa Nyoni and directed with great sensitivity by Nancy Medina is compellingly moving to watch thanks to a range of factors that highlight the themes perfectly.
Switching from the past to the present, The Darkest Part of the Night takes us into the mind of Dwight, whose autism diagnosis didn’t emerge until later on in his childhood and left him exposed to all kinds of cruel discrimination from those outside his own family – formed of sister Shirley, dad Leroy and mother Josephine. As the story unfolds we see Dwight struggling to deal with his mother’s death in the present day, clutching onto her handbag for dear life, while having flashes of memories of key moments from his childhood. Intertwined with this, the play deal with themes of racism and discrimination from the perspective of one family trying to cope the best they can.
While the play takes a while to get going and could use a little bit of either more pace or editing in places, it can’t be denied that the play is filled with warmth, humour and playfulness as well as more sobering moments – such as misunderstanding and cruelty with regards to Dwight’s diagnosis highlighted in scenes such as the one in which he is detained by a police officer under the mental health act, the struggle that Leroy faces to find a new job after being laid off while trying to deal with racial hostility and Josephine trying to hold the family together.
It feels at times the play is trying to do too much and cover a lot of ground, but Nancy Medina’s production brings it all to life in such a vivid and humane way it is difficult not to be drawn into this family’s life. The use of music and movement are of central importance here – it allows us to see Dwight express himself in a beautiful way that is actually more powerful than words – the moments in which he dances with Josephine or spends time with his sister Shirley are really touching moments that sit nicely in contrast with his complex relationship with Leroy who doesn’t know how to prepare his son for the world.
The performances are all excellent, offering real depth and compassion that you can’t help but be drawn to each of them in different ways. In particular Lee Phillips as Dwight delivers a real sympathetic and endearing performance as he adjusts to changing situations around him and coping with the world the best he can. Brianna Douglas as Shirley is a vibrant personality who lights up the stage, while Nadia Williams as Josephine is a strong presence and Andrew French captures Leroy’s contrasting emotions to situations perfectly.
The Darkest Part of the Night gets the balance of darkness and light just right and while some edits might be useful in terms of pacing – it is still full of heart and emotion to keep the audience thoroughly engaged.
By Emma Clarendon
The Darkest Part of the Night continues to play at the Kiln Theatre until the 13th August.