Writer: Torben Betts
Director: Philip Franks
Holby City and Casualty star and Strictly Come Dancing winner Tom Chambers stars alongside an intimate cast in the thriller on tour Murder in the Dark.
Known for his dark comedy, it is no surprise that Torben Betts does a sterling job of creating laugh out loud moments in his latest production. But where the humour triumphs, the thrilling element doesn’t always succeed – lacking the jump out of your seat moments audiences have come to expect from this genre. In terms of thriller conventions, it gets through many of them – the eerie nursery rhymes, the flickering lights, strange and ghoulish happenings going on in a deserted part of the world – meaning there is very little that truly has you spooked. That said, while lacking some originality, the plot certainly isn’t predictable, taking twists and turns in the second half that will leave you with more questions than answers. For some, this will be part of the fun, but for others it will likely leave a frustration. If you like a clean narrative arc, with a satisfying ending, this play isn’t the one for you.
There isn’t much that can be said about the plot line of this production. On the first page of the programme it asks you to ‘spread the word’ (but not the spoilers) – a little like The Mousetrap and other productions of the same ilk, it wants you to be in the ‘club’ but not spill any beans. But what can be said is that Chambers’ character Danny finds himself and his dysfunctional family stranded in a farmhouse, after a car crash in a remote location. He has just had his mother’s funeral and is clearly plagued by many inner demons – a failed relationship, a new one with a young girl closer in age to his son than him, broken family relationships, alcoholism and lost fame. The play follows him, his family and the farmer’s wife as they experience a night like no other and learn that nothing is quite as it seems.
While the plot is questionable, the actors and director Philip Franks do a great job with the material they have got, keeping you captivated and engaged with the story. The first half, which is more setting the scene, is more enjoyable than the second, with more spotlight on the actors themselves, than the thriller theatrics that dominate the stage post interval.
Chambers makes a strong leading man and proves that he is as comfortable on the stage, as he is on the screen – having had successful runs in productions including Dial M for Murder and Crazy for You. But it is Susie Blake as the barmy Mrs Bateman who really stands out, her timing and delivery creating some of the most memorable and humorous moments of the night. Jonny Green as Danny’s son Jake, Rebecca Charles as the ex Rebecca, Owen Oakeshott as the damaged brother and Laura White as the young love interest Sarah also support Chambers well – although, while all clearly great performers who gel well together, their characters are much more surface level, giving audiences very little to connect with.
All in all, it’s an enjoyable production, but not one that’s going to keep you up at night (out of fear or through too much post show adrenaline). With a strong cast and powerful comedy it’s worth a watch, but the questionable ending and lack of scare factor will likely leave you wanting more.
Runs until 27 January.