Writer: Torben Betts
Director: Philip Franks
Danny is a washed-up pop star, well past his heyday as a teen heartthrob in Dance Party 5. In an opening that could have been drawn from Writing Spooky Stories 101, Danny crashes his car outside a creepy farmhouse on New Year’s Eve. The occupants, his extended family, aren’t injured, but the car isn’t driveable. And – wouldn’t you know it – there’s no mobile signal and the weather is closing in. There’s no possibility of continuing their journey so they are forced to accept the hospitality of Mrs Bateman, who gives them the use of her holiday let. To be honest, it’s not a great situation to be in, and only made worse by the dodgy electrics that periodically plunge the building into darkness.
Writer Torben Betts notes in the programme that he is perhaps better known for dark comedies, so Murder in the Dark is something of a departure for him. However, his pedigree in comedy is clear as, among the jumpscares and moments of realisation, there are genuine moments of comedy, mainly served up by the excellent Susie Blake as Mrs Bateman: an actor with a great comedic history herself, she delivers the lines with just the right amount of humour and, well, weirdness. And those moments of comedy are welcome as the direction becomes increasingly heavyhanded after the interval.
Designer Simon Kenny’s set is suitably spooky, allowing the action to move away from the drab interior when necessary. The lighting scheme and soundscape from Paul Pyant and Max Pappenheim respectively effectively support the atmosphere. They have worked well with Director Philip Franks to invest the whole with suitable levels of menace and anticipation.
By the interval, we are settling into what seems to be a totally stereotypical thriller. But after the break, the narrative becomes ever more confused and disjointed and it becomes difficult to follow the convoluted storyline as its central conceit is eventually revealed.
Tom Chambers as Danny does his best with what he’s given as he, Danny, confronts his demons and the impact of his past actions on those around him. This leads to a wordy first half as we meet the characters and their backstories and connections are explored. The supporting cast do their swivel-eyed best so that we feel we are beginning to understand the interlinking relationships and tensions as the first act progresses. Our emotions and feelings towards Danny are expertly manipulated, setting the scene for the second half and the anticipated resolution. And while there is ultimately a resolution of sorts, the confused storytelling – perhaps deliberate to reflect Danny’s demons – makes it feel less than satisfactory.
The central ideas of Murder in the Dark are good, but in the storytelling questions are begged that are not adequately answered in the denouement, leading to a feeling of frustrated confusion by the end.
Runs until 11 November 2023 and on tour