Murder in the Dark

Reviewer's rating

I found this play enjoyable, entertaining, at times quite disturbing and ultimately thought-provoking. That is just about all that I should tell you because the twists in this supposed thriller/ghost story are genuinely surprising and you really don’t want to know them in advance because it would ruin a cleverly constructed play. If I even told you the classic plays to which I would compare it, it would give away too much.

So all I can tell you is that it’s very well done and much trickier than you suppose it’ll be when the curtain goes up. It’s also weirdly playful in its referencing of the old horror-movie tropes of the 1930s Universal International films directed by James Whale.

Curtain up. There’s been an accident. Two people involved in it arrive at a mysterious, dark, scary house. There is an old woman whose farm it is and who seems to have rescued them. More people from the accident arrive. As the evening develops, the background stories of the six characters emerge. Someone sees a ghost that no one else sees. So far all you’ll be thinking is that this is what you expected and it’s rather good, well-written, extremely well staged and acted, and that the characters are more complex and better-developed than usual for this kind of play.

The central character, Danny, intensely played by Tom Chambers, is a fading pop star seeking redemption and reconnection with the family he abandoned for his career. His brother, William, played with gruff dignity by Owen Oakeshott, has been betrayed by him. When the accident happened, they and others, were coming from the funeral of their mother – including Danny’s former wife, Rebecca, given a very sympathetic and moving performance from Rebecca Charles. Jonny Green plays Jake, the much-neglected, angry son of Dannybrought up by his single mother after Danny abandoned them for his career. Sarah, who seems to be Danny’s current girlfriend, is strikingly played by Laura White. All the difficulties of the relationships seem, from quite early on, a bit more complex and worrying than you would expect in an entertainment-oriented ghost-story or thriller of this sort. There is also quite a lot of dialogue and business that causes shocked and genuine laughter. The lights and TV keep coming on and off mysteriously and I guess that, because of the title of the play, we are all wondering about who will be murdered in the dark.

The performances are consistently strong and well-paced by Philip Franks, who’s clearly very sensitive to the fine script by Torben Betts. This is, among other things, a very professional homage to something like The Old Dark House and the curtain comes down on a coup-de-theatre at the end of Act One. The design by Paul Pyant brilliantly references old horror thrillers; and the lighting and sound by Max Pappanehiem, who also wrote all the original music and songs for this show, adds positively to the atmosphere.

And then, quite soon into Act Two, you begin to be enlightened about what the play is truly about and what’s truly going on. I don’t want to tell you and spoil the fun you’ll have working out the interesting puzzle that this play turns out to be.

I recommend this play if it comes near you on its tour. It’s an entertaining and stimulating evening of theatre, well performed by an ensemble cast with a script that is intelligent, disturbing and witty. I think it will give you pause. I cannot say any more than that for fear of giving away its secrets.