Saturday, July 20

Murder In The Dark – Richmond Theatre

After a car crash on a wintry, snowy night, Mrs. Bateman (Susie Blake), a local farmer, brings a fairly dysfunctional family back to her isolated farmhouse to shelter for the night before the trains start running again. It is New Year’s Eve and everyone has better plans, but instead, they are left without food or wine along with plenty of acrimony.

Danny (Tom Chambers) was a pop star once. Perhaps with a chance of making real music with his brother William (Owen Oakeshott), a hint of fame and fortune led him to leave his brother behind and join the teen pop group Dance Party 5. A string of hits and a jet-setting lifestyle saw him indulge in drink and drugs, leaving his wife Rebecca (Rebecca Charles) and young son Jake (Jonny Green) behind. Many years later, he crashes the car with his family and his considerably younger girlfriend Sarah (Laura White) while returning from his mother’s funeral. Danny had been drinking before getting behind the wheel.

In this farmhouse the power and lights come and go, the television seems to have a mind of its own and a ghostly ballerina is suddenly seen. “Murder In The Dark” doesn’t seem to know what it is trying to be: psychological horror, supernatural ghost story, addiction drama, or melodrama. It picks a little bit from each, leaving potential all around but without much gelling into place. The programme, and the very nature of the play, ask the audience not to spread spoilers, so it is difficult to go into more detail. There are glimmers of potential, but trying to be all things at once leaves each story underserved.

The whole evening feels flat and toned down. Every possible jump scare is so clearly telegraphed, and worse, occasionally lit before the jump, so it ends up being ho-hum. One of the jump scares uses such an obvious low-quality prop that there are clusters of laughter from the audience with very few gasps. The script is often clunky, the relationship between Danny and his estranged son Jake is really heavy-handed, with the dialogue rarely zinging along.

It appears that the two leads have been directed to go over the top, and Susie Blake makes this work. Her Mrs. Bateman really goes for it in every scene, chewing the scenery and the characters like there is no tomorrow. It mostly works, and she is a highlight whenever she is on stage, especially as there are more and more questions around her knowledge and her motives. However, Tom Chambers, with similar direction, doesn’t quite succeed. The tail end of Danny being drunk, combined with nerves and mania, is a little too varied. There is perhaps just enough nuance in the script to invite the audience to feel for Danny, but unfortunately, this is less successful.

As the story comes together at the end, there is a flurry of new plots and new pieces of information. However, it isn’t exactly gratifying. It is only the final scene that manages to be smart and satisfying but relies also on the audience to really engage. Otherwise, it’s a disappointing evening in the always lovely Richmond Theatre. Billed as a spine-chilling ghost story, “Murder In The Dark” doesn’t bring the chills but cries out for a clearer idea of just what sort of an evening it wants to be.

Reviewer: Dave Smith

Reviewed: 19th March 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.
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