Thank You Dark’s Without That Certain Thing confidently embraces and parodies film noir tropes to explore obsession and identity, making for a comically stylish viewing experience.
Without That Certain Thing is Rory Platt’s parodic film noir on stage, which harnesses humour and distinctive character tropes to play with the audience’s expectations. The case follows the undeniably captivating central character of Sullivan (Phoebe Naughton) who draws the audience in with her haughty and charmingly awkward disposition and narrates the events appropriately for a Hollywood detective movie.
Madeleine, the story’s unassuming object of desire, seeks safety at a lesbian speed dating event after being stalked by a rogue man named Swann. She meets Sullivan there, who is quickly drawn into her banal charm and agrees to seek out the motives of her stalker. In doing so, Sullivan’s need for answers quickly turns into an obsession over Madeleine and sparks her own undoing.
Playing wittily into cinematic tropes, writer Rory Platt and director Chloe Christian create a distinctly identifiable world through the dimly lit stage and of-the-era music that pervades the space. The familiar Hollywood world is successfully infused with London trademarks, such as a jostling tube and park lakes filled with pedalos. The cast all give strong performances, particularly the fast-talking Naughton – whose narration drives the story’s progression and mounting tension. The cast support one another well, moving seamlessly together between scenes and allowing each other space to shine. Caitlin McEwen has the challenge of making Madeleine compellingly bland, which is supported by her co-stars enhanced fascination with her. Swann, portrayed by Tom Macqueen, plays intensity and insanity with sufficient earnestness to make him fittingly unnerving in his blind affection.
The humorous miscommunications between characters at the outset are the play’s most interesting moments, holding focus because of the quick-witted pourparler. The story’s climax feels drawn out though – with the final act seeming disjointed and less elegantly pulled together than the slick set-up. Though Without That Certain Thing is certainly enjoyable (and ample humour coming from the characters’ pretension), the appeal of this piece really resides in the tone and comedy. It’s less successful, I guess, at creating any sort of profound impact on its audience.