'Dark Noon' review — American history dramatized with a twist

Read our review of Dark Noon off Broadway, a new play inspired by Western movies, presented by the Danish theatre company fix+foxy at St. Ann's Warehouse.

Austin Fimmano
Austin Fimmano

Dark Noon, a South African retelling of the settling of the American Wild West, lands in New York just as cowboy culture is becoming a mainstream fad. But for all the cowboy hats, boots, and prop guns on the Dark Noon set, this devised theatrical piece is not here to join in on the fun. It's asking us to reflect on the entire culture of the American Western and its impact at home and abroad.

Dark Noon is a documentary of sorts, telling the tale of the poor Europeans who made the journey across the sea in hopes of a better life in the Wild West. “It was a time when white lives didn’t matter,” actor Lililan Thsabalala-Malulyck explains brightly, adopting the same condescending tone historically used by Europeans when describing Africa.

So launches the story, spanning from European immigration, the slave trade, the gold rush, prostitution, capitaism, and more. The frontier is slowly built before our eyes, both narratively and literally, by the predominantly Black South African cast members sporting comically bad, sandy blond wigs and powdery whiteface.

Dark Noon’s defining feature is the way the narrative can swing from over-the-top hilarity to darkly sobering in a matter of seconds. The episodic nature can wear a little thin at times, especially as the pioneer town advances and the focus spirals in different directions. Nevertheless, Dark Noon is an arresting story that packs a punch, especially performed in the country it so expertly lampoons.

The show’s most poignant moment comes at the epilogue, when the actors cast off their roles and speak directly, earnestly, to the camera as themselves. One by one, they tell us about their childhoods in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, about the influence of the guns and violence gleefully portrayed in American movies, and the personal, real-life harm that was caused.

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Dark Noon summary

Dark Noon, produced by Danish theatre company fix+foxy, describes itself as “an African Western about European Migration.” A cast of South African actors, mostly Black (with one white cast member), tell the story of how the American Wild West was settled by Europeans and their descendants.

At times raucously funny, the narrative also highlights, with breathtaking gravity, the victims of colonialism - namely, the indigenous, Black, and Chinese residents of the frontier. There are cameras all around the set projecting on the screen behind the actors, who take turns narrating each of eight segments that make up the mock documentary.

What to expect at Dark Noon

For those in the front row, Dark Noon is about as interactive as it gets. Audience members closest to the stage are brought into the action over and over again. They are sometimes mere seat fillers, like when a new church is built in the settlement and the pews need filling. But the roles can also be more involved, as in a group square-dancing scene, and more sinister, like a mock slave auction held early in the show. Even those not pulled onstage will be involved throughout, clapping or cheering as the story calls for it.

The violent tone shifts kept my audience on their toes, with people audibly gasping at certain scenes throughout the show. Because Dark Noon is a depiction of the Wild West, there is a lot of onstage violence, and prop guns are fired with abandon.

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What audiences are saying about Dark Noon

Dark Noon currently has an 83% audience rating on Show-Score, with generally positive reviews praising the uniqueness of the show.

  • Show-Score user Maria 24 called it “the most creative show you’ll see on stage, ever.”
  • “There is a lot of audience participation in this one. If you sit in Row A, you are part of the cast,” says Show-Score user Elisa 9119.
  • Show-Score user ecamp recommends seeing Dark Noon if “you want to see an experimental play that’s part Howard Zinn and part Western, with a dash of absurdist humor thrown in. At times, [it’s] genius.”

Read more audience reviews of Dark Noon on Show-Score.

Who should see Dark Noon

  • Fans of irreverent or reexamined histories will appreciate Dark Noon’s unabashed examination of how brutal the American West really was.
  • Anyone who gets excited by impressive stagecraft will appreciate the work of set designer Johan Kølkjær and props designer Marie Rosendahl Chemnitz.
  • Lovers of international theatre and Edinburgh Fringe enthusiasts will love this global play. Dark Noon not only features a South African cast and co-director, but it has also toured all over Europe to great acclaim before coming to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn.

Learn more about Dark Noon off Broadway

Dark Noon is a frenetic, triumphant production that is both hugely entertaining and deeply thought-provoking for American audiences in particular.

Learn more and get Dark Noon tickets on New York Theatre Guide. Dark Noon is at St. Ann's Warehouse through July 7.

Photo credit: Dark Noon off Broadway. (Photos by Teddy Wolff)

Originally published on

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