California-born, Philadelphia-based Chris Davis performs trippy one-man theatre as exemplified by last year’s brilliant Drunk Lion. In this, one of two Fringe shows he has this year, he takes us with him on a journey to find total darkness. Bortle – John Bortle – was the man who devised the scale for measuring the darkness of the night sky, and Bortle 8, for these purposes at least, is the ultimate darkness which Davis craves.
It takes a while for us to reach Bortle 8 though. In fact, it’s a while before we are fully immersed in the piece. By means of a gentle opener, Davis interacts with the audience and muses upon light, dark and the imagination. It’s not easy to see where it is leading.
Once we reach the Bortle scale though, the piece begins to take off. Bortle 4 – the city sky; Bortle 5 – the suburban sky. Davis introduces each and unravels the childhood memories associated with them. By Bortle 8, he’s climbing the stars to meet John Bortle himself, the man who will show him true darkness. And to find that, we plunge to the bottom of the sea, where beneath a rock, Davis does not just find literal, but metaphorical darkness, as he examines past memories. There’s great spacey sound effects throughout too; a little “ting” evokes both the twinkle of a star and the appearance of a thought bubble.
The climax is an immense stream-of-consciousness trawl through memories and imagination, superbly performed. But such is the psychadelic nature of the piece, the audience are not initially clear when it’s over. It has taken a while to get absorbed, and maybe some have been lost along the way.
Bortle 8 provides another showcase for Davis’ fantastic imagination and the exploration of darkness is both fascinating and evocative, although our journey could have been a smoother one, and perhaps more clearly signposted. There’s definitely more to come from this man.