Murder in the Dark by Torben Betts, is a psychologically terrifying play that will have you clutching the hand of the person next to you, as you dread what will follow. The story follows a narrative that looks straight out of a Black Mirror episode, one that will make your toes curl the more the story unfolds.
The story opens with ex superstar Danny, along with his much younger girlfriend Sarah, following an elderly lady into a dimly lit cabin, . The owner, a Mrs Bateman, (Susie Blake) welcomes them both into her home, acting very accommodating whilst also exhibiting a strange vibe. It quickly becomes obvious that Danny is suffering from an alcohol addiction, and his mum’s recent passing has not made it any easier. The door opens to Danny’s ex-wife, his brother, and his son that he struggles to hold a relationship with. Danny confesses he should’ve done more after he gave up his family for fame. At first, they seem like just a dysfunctional family who are trying to work out their differences among themselves, however, they begin to discover that the house isn’t all that it seems. Things heat up when Danny’s son claims he sees a creepy ballerina that no one else can see. Danny and his brother Will also recall a game from their childhood where their babysitter would chase them around the house singing Three Blind Mice, before playing a terrifying prank that has haunted Danny ever since. All too late, Danny realises the consequences of his greed. Murder in The Dark is cleverly directed by Philip Franks.
One of the most impressive things about this play is the extraordinary set design. It depicts the inside of a cabin with a homely, golden glow, creating a cosy and inviting home. What is particularly impressive is that with a simple switch during the power cuts, the wholesome home transforms into a sinister cabin. Lighting director Paul Pyant has evidently put in a commendable effort into making the stark contrasts so shocking. It reflects Danny’s state of mind, causing us to spiral alongside him.
What cannot go amiss is the incredible acting of every cast member. I feel so immersed in the story it is like I am watching a real dysfunctional family argue. It is impressive how they not only embody their characters, but every actor had established relationships with other characters. A particularly impressive piece is when Danny (Tom Chambers) begs his ex-wife Rebecca (Rebecca Charles) to come back to him after he left her. What makes this so impactful is his pleas don’t fall on deaf ears, Rebecca has internal conflict where she struggles to say no to him, but she knows she cannot get over his betrayal. Charles’s acting is incredible, further adding dimensions to her character, by wrestling with her own heartbreak. This show has more well rounded characters in under two hours than some shows can accomplish in several seasons. The stellar cast also includes Jonny Green as Jake and Owen Oakeshott as William.
What makes this play so impactful is that it doesn’t try to do too many things at once. Often with performances in this genre, there seems to be either a very predictive ending, or the writers try so hard to be unpredictable that the ending doesn’t make any sense. This particular narrative is thoughtfully written, especially considering that the concept was made in a weekend. The twist is a gruesome twist without being completely far fetched. I think it would be interesting to watch the play a second time knowing the ending to see all the clues that lead to the end. The attention to detail pushes this play over the edge, creating an unsettling vibe throughout instead of relying on cheesy jump scares.
Overall, this play is easily one of the most impressive to come from the Derngate. The acting is pulled off to an absolutely phenomenal standard, and the concept proves effective at keeping the audience’s attention. The narrative stays true to itself with its social commentary instead of trying to fit in too many messages into one play. I hope this will set the standard for many shows to follow.
Murder In The Dark runs at Royal and Derngate until Saturday 21st October