What they are saying
REVIEW, DARK SKY, APRIL 2020
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
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'
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
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)
REVIEW, DARK SKY, APRIL 2020
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
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.
MARTIN PAUL ROCHE (Stage Scripts)
REVIEW, DARK SKY, APRIL 2020
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.
"I was totally engrossed and loved each surprise as it was revealed.
Wonderful stuff.” GH
“A thoroughly enjoyable play,” RT