Murder in the Dark – Original Theatre Online

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Director: Philip Franks

Writer: Torben Betts

In setting the scene, Torben Betts’ play, Murder in the Dark, covers a lot of ground early. A family, travelling home from a funeral, crash their car on a lonely country road. The nearest property – an isolated farmhouse – is owned by an eccentric old lady, Mrs Bateman It is New Year’s Eve, and taxis are thin on the ground. The family reluctantly decides to stay for the night.

Danny Sierra (Tom Chambers) is a former pop star, living on the final dregs of his teenage fame. Travelling with his estranged older brother, William (Owen Oakeshott) and ex-wife Rebecca (Rebecca Charles), Danny’s glamorous girlfriend, Sarah (Laura White), and his musician son, Jake (Jonny Green) completes the group.

As they settle in, Danny grubs around for any alcohol on the premises (his painkiller addiction flares up too). As tensions rise, the family go over old grudges. The farm’s dodgy wiring plummets them into temporary blackouts. In the dark, Danny begins to see nightmarish visions. What is real, what is supernatural, we are left to decipher.

Murder in the Dark has all the component parts of a thrilling gothic mystery, but none of these parts work together. When it comes to revealing exactly what is happening, the denouement is rushed and confused. We don’t get a properly-defined resolution and that hair-raising moment – skilfully achieved in established productions such as The Woman in Black and The Mousetrap – is missing here, and the play really needs it.

The saving grace of this Original Theatre production is its cast. As the washed-up, faded star, Tom Chambers as Danny is a world away from his sunny, Strictly-winning persona. Chambers delivers an ungrounded character, mired in self-pity. His scenes with Owen Oakeshott are particularly effective. Their simmering Gallagher-style resentment should be explored in more detail.

Mrs. Bateman is the hardest character for the audience to pin down – we are never quite sure of her motives – and getting Susie Blake to play her is a stroke of genius. Blake’s mercurial talent shines in the more comedic scenes, and she unnerves us with a look, an offhand comment, in an instant. The blend of reassurance – a familiar face – and the character’s tendency to unhinge us, makes Blake’s performance eminently watchable.

Murder in the Dark can be best described as a partial success. The show attempts to create a brooding atmosphere through light (and lack of it) and a layering of sound effects that increasingly become urgent and primal. These horror tropes are well-applied, but the plot doesn’t allow them to flourish. It’s not enough to be jolted out of our seats if the villain never fully emerges. The psychological combination of Danny’s addictions and childhood memories is on the verge of leading to something really intriguing, but we never quite get there. It is the central flaw that hampers this production. We never get close enough to be really immersed in the experience. The truth, and the terror, are always just out of reach.

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The Reviews Hub Score

A partial success

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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