Dark humour isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if the cup of tea in question is well brewed and with a splash of oat milk, then dark humour is certainly the cuppa for me. There is a fine line between what is funny and what is tasteless, however. Finding that balance can be a huge challenge, and when it comes to subjects like murder, mental health and sexual identity, there’s an even greater risk of falling into offensive and insensitive territory. In Black Hound Production’s new show, The Predicament of Jackson Scott, the wavering tight rope of risky dark humour is crossed with confidence.
Written by Josh McGrillen and directed by Lex Kaby, The Predicament of Jackson Scott follows the titular protagonist, Jackson Scott (played by Yves Morris) attempt to navigate his way through a particularly situation. The tricky situation being that he accidentally killed his boyfriend, Ted (Luke Ashley Tame), whilst having sex. Jackson’s decision to cover up the real circumstances of Ted’s death leads to an unexpected consequence; Jackson is now haunted by the ghost of Ted. Whether a manifestation of Jackson’s guilt, or indeed a supernatural spectre, Ted’s presence begins the inevitable snowballing of Jackson’s already dire situation, and as things get darker, the comedy becomes more biting.
This is, in essence, a story about the destructive power of denial. While in many ways this feels like a black comedy from the early-2000s, the handling of Jackson’s sexuality is at its most poignant when he openly denies his homosexuality. For me, comedy is at its most powerful when it treads into the boarders of pain, and while this thread of Jackson’s journey is somewhat overshadowed by the more zany elements of the plot, it nonetheless struck a chord. There are some excellent performances here, with Yves Morris bringing a laser-sharp tension to Jackson’s forever on-edge personality, and Luke Ashley Tame exudes natural comedic gravitas as the bolshy spirit of Ted. Alex Wallacot shines as the somewhat out of her depth grief counsellor, Alex Fitzgordon – a character who feels almost conjured out of the world of Stephen Merchant’s The Outlaws – and particular credit has to go to Cordelia Tarbrooke who stepped in last minute as best friend, Bernice Masterson. Tarbrooke’s assured performance was nothing short of incredible, following in the tradition of many COVID understudies of recent months. The paired down set, centred around Ted’s earth-filled grave, is beautifully designed by Patrick Withey, symbolising as much within the show’s physical geography as much as the cast that Jackson’s actions are now an indelible mark in these characters’ lives. While there are some elements of the writing that feel a little brushed over for the sake of laughs, this is an accomplished piece of comedy performed by an undeniably talented company.