York Theatre Royal begins their new season with Murder in the Dark by Torben Betts. I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing like a thriller to generate a little bit of excitement and there is nothing quite like a murder mystery on an Autumn evening, so I settled down to be entertained. But this production wasn’t quite what I expected…
By Angie Millard
Photos by Pamela Raith
Agatha Christie is popular at present with a new Poirot film on release but I am always looking for something a little different. Philip Franks, the director, admits that horror films have always been his guilty pleasure and claims that ‘they often put their finger on what worries us most as a society.’ Certainly, Hollywood has often used zombies, shark attacks and menacing outsiders to represent threats from beyond our communities. In this play, Betts uses a car crash on New Year’s Eve to force the inhabitant of a desolate cottage to open their doors and let in strangers. The ingredients of a classic murder mystery are presented and we can hardly wait to see the result.
‘Yipee,’ I thought as Tom Chambers playing Danny, a washed-up pop star, and Susie Blake, playing the eccentric owner of the farm, entered the stage. Danny and his girlfriend Rebecca had been forced to take sanctuary and there was already tension in the air. Later it appeared that they were part of a family group travelling from a funeral and we were introduced to his petulant son, Jonny Green, his long-suffering brother, Owen Oakshott, and his pragmatic ex-wife, Rebecca Charles. All were sick of Danny’s selfish and destructive behaviour just as one would expect, but something wasn’t quite right. The play, despite the heavy-handed humour, managed to present an eerie atmosphere.
I can’t write in any more detail about the plot but my advice is for the audience to forget all preconceptions. One is led into what can only be described as an existential nightmare with non-sequential frighteners and haunting appearances aplenty. Watch out for the ghostly ballerina!
It is part of the zeitgeist of contemporary film and theatre that we start expecting one thing then find we are presented with quite another. If you keep an open mind you will enjoy Murder in the Dark.
The acting is tight and effective, although I feel that we deserved a little less stereotyping. The set is brilliantly envisaged by Simon Kenny; my only reservation here being the realisation of the last scene. However, lighting by Paul Pyant, clever design by Simon Kenny, and atmospheric sound devised by Max Pappenheim worked in unison to create unsettling and at times terrifying effects.
An excellent opening to the season.
Murder in the Dark is being performed at York Theatre Royal until 23 September 2023. The production is presented by Original Theatre, Trafalgar Theatre productions and JAS Theatricals. The director is Philip Franks.
Tom Chambers- Danny
Susie Blake- Mrs Bateman
Rebecca Charles- Rebecca
Jonny Green- Jake
Owen Oakeshott- William
Laura White- Sarah