The title reveals the genre the play follows, visitors enduring ordeals in a strange house.
James Whale's gruesome horror film 'The Old Dark House', loosely based on Priestley's novel 'Benighted', came to mind immediately as did Moniuszko's opera 'The Haunted Manor', a comedy in which two young men survive a night of terror faked by their girlfriends, and 'The Rocky Horror Show'. All four contain outstanding roles for the servant.
'The Haunted Manor' and 'Rocky Horror' share a formula in which the characters undergo trials which lead to change in self.
'The Dark Inn' was darker. We saw characters trapped in their lives but events of the night made things different – happiness for some but not for one.
Given without a break, the first 45 minutes of 130 barely moved, with total inspection of the minutiae of interaction. Sentences responded to each other with meaningful pauses and action crept along against a ticking clock amid the calls of bird and insects. Then, as the play evolved, action tumbled over itself.
Two puppeteers, a son and his dwarf father, come to a remote inn, its four sets similar to those in SBS's series 'Oshin'. Other characters show up: a blind man, an older and a younger geisha and a sansuke (a bath house servant).
So built around mainstays of Japanese culture is the play that the inn could be a metaphor for Japan itself. Wooden, with wooden furniture, with a stone bath, the inn is built from nature but threatened by the approaching construction of a bullet train line. Filial piety, deference, nude public bathing, the frank attitude to sex and self-blame for talking too much are some of the distinctly Japanese traditions depicted. Several of the characters, principally the Western-dressed puppeteers, smoke.
Playwright-Director Kuro Tanino paced his play for maximum impact, luring us into impatience for action and then overwhelming us with events. The revolve epitomised change, sweeping around to display the sets of Tanino and Michiko Inada.
The subtitles sometimes lingered, then sometimes moved before I could read them. No distinction was made in the font to help us work who was talking to whom. Operas often eliminate ambiguity by alternating Times New Roman and italics.
The most surprising thing about the nudity was its realism, with the actors revealing the bodies most people have.
Early on I wondered if I could last the distance. As the play began to resolve I thought, 'Oh no, it's going to end'.
When the cast entered for their bows there was a reluctance to break the spell... But someone began clapping and cheering and so we joined them.