Murder in the Dark – Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Reviewer: James Garrington

Writer: Torben Betts

Director: Philip Franks

It’s New Year’s Eve, and once-famous but troubled singer Danny Sierra is involved in a car accident on a lonely country road, miles from anywhere. He thinks he’s fortunate, a lady has picked him and his extended family up and driven them to a holiday cottage on her farm where weather conditions force them to spend the night – but it’s a holiday cottage with some very dodgy wiring, and when the lights go out some strange and inexplicable events start to occur.

Murder in the Dark is a ghost story full of twists, turns and false leads, so every time you start to think you can work out where the plot is going something happens to show you’re probably wrong. Writer Torben Betts has put together a clever script that leaves you guessing right up until a few minutes before the final curtain – and even when the ending becomes apparent, there’s still something left to entertain you and leave you still questioning what’s actually happened after you’ve left the theatre. At just 90 minutes it’s a short piece that’s part ghost story, part psychological drama, part comedy, with something to entertain everyone.

Leading the strong cast we have Susie Blake (Mrs Bateman) and Tom Chambers (Danny Sierra). Blake makes a wonderful Mrs Bateman, with a nice mixture of normality, eeriness and occasional quite unsettling sexuality. Alongside her, Chambers shines as a man confused about what is happening to him, unclear whether he’s losing his mind and increasingly desperate for an explanation. Laura White brings a nice mix of annoyance and sexiness to proceedings as Danny’s girlfriend Sarah, contrasting well with Rebecca Charles’ portrayal of his ex-wife Rebecca. Owen Oakeshott gives us a stereotypically classic version of a teacher as Danny’s brother William, alternately logical and practical joker, with Jonny Green completing the cast as an angry and bitter Jake, Danny’s son.

Productions like this stand or fall on the quality of the technical aspects, and lighting designer Paul Pyant and sound designer Max Pappenheim have between them done some excellent work to come up with a design that completely transforms the atmosphere when required, from a safe and welcome haven from the weather outside to a place of threat and menace. Mention must be made too of the uncredited technicians who delivered the cues exactly when required, without which the production wouldn’t be the same. Simon Kenny’s set is cleverly designed and does its job well although it’s sometimes a little more clunky in its movement than ideal.

Murder in the Dark is neither classic horror nor classic ghost story – if anything it’s more psychological drama with elements of other genres mixed in, so there’s entertainment to be had even if you’re not a ghost or horror fan. With some good on-stage performances, it’s well worth a visit.

Runs until 21 October 2023 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Well conceived gripping thriller

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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