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Compelling theatre with a loving heart and a loud voice!

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Compelling theatre with a loving heart and a loud voice!

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The excellent Halifax-based company Talking Stock have brought several notable productions, including 'Le Grand Return' and 'Godfrey’s Last Stand', to this small but perfectly formed pub theatre and performance space in the Saddleworth hills during the five attention-grabbing years it has been run and programmed by Tim Newbold and Michael Powis. But new landlord Huw has different plans for the space, so this was the last performance there.

The good news is that the dapper duo plan to programme the nearby (and larger) Millgate Arts Centre from September, and that, if they had to go, then this splendidly entertaining show was a pretty good way to bow out.

Written and directed by Alan Stockdill to reflect the company’s philosophy of producing “compelling theatre with a loving heart and a loud voice,” Dark Sky opens as loved-up animal rights activists Emma (Hannah Head) and Paul (Chris Berry) are about to meet with their fellow, but far more aggressive, activist John (Simon Reece) to sort out not only their obviously tangled love-lives but also what the group should even call themselves. Oh yes, and also their plans to mount an audacious strike against the animal experimenters Sutton Life Sciences' laboratory.

But is everyone really who they appear to be? Almost certainly not, it turns out, as the play takes on a breakneck pace after the interval, when Luke (Todd Wilson) and Matthew (Guy Liddell) also appear on the scene and a hare-brained plot to kidnap the firm’s boss seems to be unexpectedly afoot.

It’s inspired, the company claim, by a real-life story, and there are parallels with the outrageous way various security services have over the years planted deep-cover agents within activist groups, even if some of them may well have been just a hapless group of amateurs - like our plotting pals from Dark Sky, as they finally opt to call themselves.

As usual with this company, there are serious, thought-provoking undertones, but also plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to savour as the ingeniously engrossing plot twists and turns its way along.

KEVIN BOURKE (Manchester Theatre Awards)



The world of animal rights activists might not on first consideration by your first choice when it comes to choosing a new theatre piece to watch or indeed write about. But Alan Stockdill demonstrates with his new play 'Dark Sky' that the shadowy world of animal rights is just another window - and a fascinating one at that - through which to view humanity, relationships and what motivates them. In this example he explores what motivates (on first appearance) ordinary people to take extraordinary measures to protect the rights of animals and moreover, the extreme measures some will justify when faced with the perceived inhumanity of our kind in the cause of animal testing and research.

Stockdill neatly introduces us to three very different characters, all of whom appear to have a common cause and a passion and are played by Hannah Head (‘Emma’), Chris Berry (‘Paul’) and Simon Reece (‘John). The other neat element is that they all appear as ordinary and as passionate as any one of us might consider ourselves to be. But he then sets out to drip-feed us just enough information and back story to make us think we know where the story is leading as the measures they consider for their cause take them way beyond the bounds or what is acceptable and legal. Friendships and relationships are tested as trust becomes the thorny issue and the characters begin to question their own motivations and whether they are all what they seem to be.

And Stockdill is very adept at bringing humour into play to balance the tension and rationalise the twists and turns this plot keeps taking. And twist it most certainly does as humour is also used to take the plot in a wholly different direction with the introduction of their hapless activist-associate ‘Luke’ played by Todd Wilson and their wrong time nemesis, ‘Matthew’ played by Guy Liddell. Indeed if a competition had been run before the curtain went up on what the audience might think would happen in the end, I can guarantee the company would go home with their prize money intact.

The piece does not afford the luxury of meaningful spoilers to whet the appetite further of what really is happening but suffice to say, this is a story which really keeps delivering surprises until the very end. Sensible casting mean that the play has an excellent team who have really got inside this intriguing piece and deliver very different and distinct characters, all of which are credible, engaging and in resolution, not what they seem.

It is simply a play that works both in design and in delivery and its originality ensures that it keeps you engaged until the very end.



It’s a real treat to see an Alan Stockdill play. He is a master at drawing out the idiosyncrasies of character and taking his audiences on the most incredible journeys. 'Dark Sky' starts out as a meeting of minds: three animal activists attempting to plan a more hands-on demonstration. The tension between Emma, Paul and John is raised beautifully as an audacious plot is hatched.

As the trio bring in the quiet and dependable Luke into the equation, the black humour is abundant as the question ‘Who am I?’ is posed. The play raises many pertinent points as to where are priorities lie in bringing justice and truth to the fore. The trio provide a humorous and tense exploration of friendship and secrecy in the pursuit of something bigger than themselves.

This is a skilfully plotted and overall tightly scripted piece with great performances. If you are looking for an entertaining comedy-drama with unexpected twists in the tale, 'Dark Sky' is not to be missed.


Audience response:

"I was totally engrossed and loved each surprise as it was revealed. Wonderful stuff.” GH

“A thoroughly enjoyable play,” RT

Compelling theatre with a loving heart and a loud voice!

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