MURDER IN THE DARK

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By Torben Betts
An Original Theatre, Trafalgar Theatre Productions and JAS Theatricals production
Derby Theatre

Include “murder” in the title of a play in these days when some people can’t get enough of crime – and you can expect it to go down well with theatregoers.

Add a Derbyshire actor to the cast, in this case Tom Chambers who nowadays spends more time on television than on stage, and you can almost guarantee full houses. That’s what Derby Theatre is enjoying with Murder in the Dark.

This isn’t the first time a Torben Betts’ play produced by Original Theatre has stopped off in Derby; in 2019 the theatre staged Caroline’s Kitchen, a behind-the-scenes look at a celebrity chef whose life isn’t as perfect as she makes out.

Murder in the Dark is a departure for Betts as it’s a ghost story, admittedly not everyone’s favourite genre. But with a strong cast and assured direction by Philip Franks, the play turns out to be a cleverly written, engaging work with a number of twists and turns which will have you guessing about the outcome.

Rebecca Charles (Rebecca), Jonny Green (Jake) and Laura White (Sarah). Above: Tom Chambers (Danny) and Susie Blake (Mrs Bateman) [images: Pamela Raith]

The main character, Danny, is a pop star whose popularity has waned. Chambers gives a credible performance as the man who has betrayed everyone around him and neglected his family in his search for stardom. His uncontrollable anger causes problems with his girlfriend while his refusal to change his outrageous lifestyle enrages everyone around him.

The play is set on New Year’s Eve. Danny crashes his car in the middle of nowhere and his extended family end up in an isolated holiday cottage where no one has contact with the outside world.

The building is owned by Mrs Bateman, portrayed fabulously by Susie Blake. She shines as an old-fashioned, straight-talking spinster who is more complex than she initially appears.

She gets the funniest lines in Betts’ script, delivering them perfectly and being rewarded with guffaws from the audience.

As with the best ghost stories, lights keep fusing, inanimate objects come to life and apparitions are visible only to certain people.

The cast of Murder in the Dark

There is strong support from the rest of the cast. Rebecca Charles earns sympathy as Danny’s wife Rebecca who was cast aside as he pursued his music career. You fear for Laura White, Danny’s much younger girlfriend Sarah who could be the next victim of his irrational behaviour.

Owen Oakeshott, Danny’s brother William, has every reason to despise him for the way he’s been treated over the years while Jonny Green, Danny’s son Jake, is looking for retribution after his father neglected him for so long.

The programme for Murder in the Dark encourages audiences to spread the word but not the spoilers. So I’ll just say that the atmosphere is heightened by Simon Kenny’s set, with the interior of the cottage transforming into an outside toilet, Paul Pyant’s eerie lighting and Max Pappenheim’s haunting sounds.

Even if you’re not a fan of ghost stories, there are enough chilling moments in Murder in the Dark to shake you out of your comfort zone. It can be disturbing – but there are some really funny moments too.

* This review originally appeared on the British Theatre Guide website

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