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Review: Murder in the Dark (Richmond Theatre)

Review by Rosie Holmes

 

⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

Murder in the Dark is described as a ‘spine-tingling ghost story’ and as the curtains rise, a desolate farmhouse is revealed, displaying many tropes of the genre. The first page of the show programme asks for audiences to “spread the word (but not the spoilers)” and so this review will protect the twists of the show as requested, but did these twists provide the thrills they promised?

 

The show opens to the tune of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, its New Year’s Eve and once-famous pop star Danny Sierra has just crashed his car containing his girlfriend, ex-partner, son and brother. Stranded in the middle of nowhere they are forced to stay in the farmhouse of spinster Mrs Bateman, who maybe knows more about the family than she is letting on. As the family settle in for the night, we learn more about their relationships and uncover resentments between brothers, a fraught father-son dynamic, and the impact of Danny’s fame and addiction on those around him.



The cast do well with a sometimes-weak plot, breathing life into the family and the mysterious Mrs Bateman. Tom Chambers is Danny Sierra, a faded pop star dating a much younger lady and grappling with alcoholism – he is completely self-absorbed, neglecting his relationships with those that care for him. While occasionally a little over-exaggerated, Chambers does well to bring an affable edge to the otherwise very one-dimensional cliché of his character. Susie Blake, as the increasingly unsettling Mrs Bateman is, however, the standout of the show. There is just a glimpse of menace behind the sweet older lady act she portrays from the beginning, and she makes the most of the script, delivering her comedic lines to lots of audience laughter. Sarah White, plays Danny’s much younger girlfriend and, again, works well with the script, displaying all at once the naivety of her youth but also just the right amount of sassiness.  Similarly, Rebecca Charles as Danny’s ex is stoic and strong as her role of Jake’s mother, but also displays vulnerability and depth which allows for some character development.

 

Murder in the Dark makes for an interesting family drama, and the play switches between comedy, drama, and horror throughout. However, at times it feels like it’s trying to do just a little too much for any of the genres to make enough impact. Most of the characters are a little too superficial, and the script doesn’t allow them enough depth to evoke any strong emotion from the audience. The play does work best as a family drama, exploring the psyches of its characters as they find themselves in an unsettling situation, and so the first half of the play is stronger as we see the family’s secrets unfold. However, the second half rushes through convoluted twists, turns, and attempted jump scares so quickly that it loses its way and its impact.



Tension builds effectively in the first half as lights flicker on and off, shadows appear outside, and more is learnt about the fate of Mrs Bateman’s husbands. This increase in tension and apprehension really is what makes for a good ghost story, and so it was disappointing therefore this tension seemed to disappear in the second half. Horror aspects were no longer teased, but instead were revealed outright, dissipating any apprehension, and unfortunately causing some laughter rather than fear. Similarly, as attempts were made to pull the many subplots together, the play lost its way as it became rather convoluted.

 

Set design by Simon Kenny is successful throughout. An eerie Crhistmas tree sits at the back of the room, lighting up by itself and the set cleverly transforms to allow ghosts to enter and exit. The farmhouse quickly becomes an outside toilet and shadows lurk at the windows. Similarly, sound design by Max Pappenheim creates a lot of the tension which the script does not. Danny Sierra’s pop hit ‘Murder in the Dark’ plays on the tv, a fun touch which all at once unsettles the characters on stage but made me, sitting in the audience, smile.



Murder in the Dark is ambitious in its aims to be a funny, thrilling ghost story and unfortunately doesn’t quite hit the mark on all aspects. At times it is a funny and touching family drama, but I felt a little underwhelmed by the plot twists and the lack of scare factor. By all means, with its accomplished cast and clever set design it was still an enjoyable night at the theatre, but its attempt to combine so many genres did mean it lacked some of its intended impact.

 

Murder in the Dark plays at Richmond Theatre until Saturday 23rd March, tickets and more information here - Murder in the Dark Tickets | Richmond Theatre in Greater London | ATG Tickets


Photos by Pamela Raith

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