Saturday, July 13

Murder in the Dark – Floral Pavilion

As the audience opens their programmes for tonight’s performance, they are greeted with a simple plea – do not spoil the show for others. With that in mind, what can be said about the show is that it absolutely won’t be what you expect. I’m just not sure that’s a good thing in this case.

We start with a simple premise. Faded pop star Danny (Tom Chambers) and his young girlfriend Sarah (Laura White) arrives at a ramshackle cottage with a handily unreliable power supply and no wi-fi, having crashed his car. They are taken under the wing of the eccentric owner Mrs Bateman (Susie Blake) and soon joined by the car’s other passengers; Danny’s estranged brother William (Owen Oakeshott), ex-wife Rebecca (Rebecca Charles) and his uninterested son Jake (Jonny Green).

Directed by Philip Franks, the show starts in the eerie, intriguing fashion that one would expect given its title, but as our story unfolds, it quickly descends into a muddle of genres – murder mystery, supernatural horror, even comedy, and doesn’t seem to be able to pick one until the last 15minutes or so of the show.

Chambers never seems really comfortable in the role of the lothario has-been. Danny isn’t a particularly likeable character from the get-go either, leaving Chambers with little to do but look confused as the night begins to unravel; there is little nuance to his performance. Similarly, his castmates make a reasonable fist of what little character development they have, particularly Green as he rages at his father’s absence and lack of support during his childhood.

It is Blake that is the saving grace of an otherwise mediocre melodrama. She is a deliciously scatty and unpredictable character, always with an underlying vibe of being completely unhinged. There are some tantalising titbits into why she has taken particular interest in Danny but again, these are annoyingly rushed through, leaving you scrambling to keep up, but Blake remains engaging and entertaining throughout.

Likewise, the show benefits from the technical prowess of designer Simon Kenny, lighting designer Paul Pyant and Sound designer/composer Max Pappenheim. They add clever staging touches (particularly the transition between in and outdoors) and real atmosphere.  

When the denouement finally comes it feels like being shown a prize you’ve just lost out on – what should have been a fascinating concept comes at a point when you’ve stopped caring and leaves you wondering what might have been had the execution had more panache.

It’s a crashing shame that the ingredients are all here for something really spine-chilling, and instead the result is as patchy as the cottage’s fuse box.

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Reviewer: Lou Steggals

Reviewed: 12th March 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.