Writer: Michael Lesslie
Director: Peter Rowe
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Fright Night seems to be a burgeoning business in Theatreland. The Woman in Black continues to scare audiences in both London and around the country, and countless other thrillers seem to be a mainstay of the touring repertoire. If Michael Lesslie’s And Then The Dark has a long future in the repertoire, though, is less certain.
Billed as a psychological thriller, Lesslie’s plot is as muddled as the mind of its central protagonist. As Edward sits in a gloomy room on the seventh anniversary of the death of his wife and son in a house fire in the room above. Edward has, however, refused to believe the pair has died and the circumstances behind the fire seem questionable at best. The deaths seven years ago add their own shadow to an already gloomy room, building paranoia in an already edgy Edward.
There’s a strong enough story there to craft an effective thriller but Lesslie piles on sub plot after sub plot that it feels like you’re having to wade through treacle to get to the heart of the piece. Characters enter into long, unnatural speeches that do nothing to drive narrative and, just when you think you are heading down one avenue, Lesslie troughs in another sub plot. In many ways it seems like a writer’s sketch book for ideas rather than a coherent plot. By the time the interval comes, little action has taken place and there is a real danger that the only threat will be of the audience falling asleep.
Things do take a darker turn in the second act but it’s too little, too late and the contrived nature of their delivery has comedic rather than chilling overtones. Overblown dialogue and superfluous characters make it feel like a script in urgent need of a literary editor. A rushed denouement makes you wonder what the previous two hours actually achieved. There are fleeting moments of tension but not enough to maintain any feeling of suspense or chill.
Peter Rowe’s production relies heavily on lighting and sound to create atmosphere and Matthew Bugg’s score and Malcolm Rippeth’s shadowy lighting provide the only genuine chills of the evening, complementing Foxton’s beautifully detailed but underused set.
The cast try valiantly to create some atmosphere but it often verges dangerously into melodrama rather than thriller. Paul Ansdell overplays the paranoia of Edward, becoming a parody in the process and, while Ben Jones tries to give William a darker edge, the script hinders such shade, rendering the character a comic air. There are strong cameo performances from Liza Sadovy and Jonny Weldon as Ruth and Theo but, again, they are hampered by clunky dialogue and construction.
With some major surgery there is a potential for an effective thriller buried here, but at the moment its buried in the ashes by overblown exposition, muddled plot lines and a frankly comedic denouement. A wimper rather than a scream.