IN TODAY’S normality of FX and beyond, nearly everything we watch on screen is high tech viewing. It is very difficult for the stage to compete with this visual trickery – unless of course you have Las Vegas budgets. All credit then, to the team behind this Gothic mash- up for providing quite a few moments to send a shiver down the spine.
Torben Betts has written a modern day ghost story with a misleading title.
‘Murder In The Dark’ may sound Agatha Christie but it is fact more in the genre of SAW than gentle French moustached detectives and ancient amateur spinster sleuths.
I shall choose my words carefully so as not to give away too much as terror – unlike revenge – is best served hot and fresh, rather than cold and anticipated.
Set on a New Years Eve, fading pop star Danny (a highly-animated performance from Tom Chambers) arrives uninvited at a farmhouse that reeks of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’. He’s crashed his car nearby in some sort of drink-driving episode.
Danny’s accompanied by his token totty girlfriend Sarah (an intense and moody outing from Laura White).
They are offered overnight sanctuary by the witchlike farmer’s wife Mrs Bateman (a big and colourful performance from Susie Blake).
By the by they are joined by other people involved in the pile up, all of whom, it seems, have been to a funeral along with Danny and Sarah. That’s his ex-wife Rebecca (feisty stuff from Rebecca Charles), his neglected super brat son Jake (an even feistier Jonny Green) who apparently hates him and his brother William (Owen Oakeshott provides a bit of synergy to the cacophony).
The house, with its outdoor toilet, seemingly has a mind and a plot of its own too. Lights go on and off at random, things bang, clatter, appear and disappear and that’s just for starters.
Things don’t just go bump in the night – they unleash the gates to hell.
Several twists and turns offer up reasons for the macabre do-doings, are dis-counted and then just when “By Jove you think you’ve got it” – it’s a Brrr of ‘wrong!’ from the brain buzzer.
Simon Kenny’s set moves between interior and exterior seamlessly and allows director Philip Franks to move the madness at a pretty frenetic pace.
Betts’ script is a tad sparse on meaningful dialogue and as such never really engaged me. It didn’t help that many times the audibility wasn’t good – if ever there was a case for radio mics, this was it. It’s a fundamental fact that if you play a loud piece of music or effect and then follow that with a naked human voice, the eardrums have to adjust.
Put this right and the show in my opinion becomes accessible not just spectacle. At the moment it’s short, sharp and spooky when it should be short, sharp, engaging and spooky.
Murder in the Dark runs at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre until Saturday, November 11. Click here for times, tickets and more information.