Fringe Box



Stage Dragon Review: Murder in the Dark – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 13 Sep, 2023
Updated on: 16 Sep, 2023

The cast from left to right: Rebecca Charles, Laura White, Owen Oakeshott, Susie Blake, Jonny Green and Tom Chambers

By Martin Giles

With the title Murder in the Dark perhaps other theatregoers, like me, were expecting a fairly traditional whodunit, perhaps a contemporary Agatha Christie, but no, and it is hard to place this play in any particular genre.

It starts conventionally enough, one could say the opening scene was theatrical thriller cliche. A couple, Danny and Sarah (Tom Chambers and Laura White), are shown into a slightly spooky farmhouse by the eccentric elderly woman pig farmer Mrs Bateman (the well-known Susie Blake). They have been in a car crash and bad weather means they are cut off.

So far, so familiar, and one could be forgiven for wondering how many minutes would elapse before the first body would be discovered.

But instead of a murder victim, other characters from the same crashed car appear a brother, a former wife (it transpires) and a son. The play turns from thriller to family drama as the leading character’s life is dissected, his rise to fame as a pop star, his alcoholism, and his neglect of family duty while the farmer’s behaviour indicates she is more involved with these characters than a stranger should be.

Susie Blake giving a good performance as the wacky Mrs Bateman.

This all goes on a little too long and when the son says he has found a girl in the outside toilet we might have been relieved to be back on the thriller/ whodunit track. But no. The girl has weirdly disappeared from the watched privy. Perhaps we were watching a supernatural horror?

Yes, we were. But some of the effects were unconvincing, and if some were scared others were only amused raising a suspicion that the real intention of the writer was a comedy thriller a suspicion strengthened when the first post-interval scene was apparently intentional and very enjoyable farce.

But then came more reflections, more supernatural appearances and more family angst.

In the end, there were hints of a morality play with a life’s reckoning and a nightmare thrown in.

Applause at the end was enthusiastic. Perhaps others had been less confused than me although a few brief conversations with other audience members confirmed that I was not the only one unsure what, exactly, we had seen.

The play was, for periods, entertaining but the element of farce was ever present, intentional or not.

Tom Chambers has a demanding, ever-present role as the flawed character Danny.

Nonetheless, there were some good performances from the cast most notably from the well-known Susie Blake as Mrs Bateman and Laura White who shows a real range of acting skill, the Guildford School of Acting trained her well. For me, Tom Chambers, of Strictly fame, tried too hard in his, admittedly, demanding role. The exaggerated physicality was too frequent a reminder that we could not willingly suspend our disbelief.

Director Philip Franks said: “Horror films have been my guilty pleasure since I was a morbid child. Now is the time to find out whether many years’ worth of jump scares and terrible nightmares can be put to good use. We’ll also see whether my more adult theory – that horror often puts its finger on what worries us most as a society at any given time – will also hold true.” Maybe, but at times this was more Rocky Horror Show (there was even a song) than horror.

Murder in the Dark was produced by Original Theatre, Trafalgar Theatre Productions and written by Torben Betts.

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Responses to Stage Dragon Review: Murder in the Dark – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

  1. Jan Messinger Reply

    September 13, 2023 at 8:59 pm

    Loved reading this review of the current production at the Yvonne Arnaud. It took me back to how local theatre production used to be reviewed.

    For me, it also makes me think of Sidney Herbert Sime (1865-1941) the artist who drew theatrical caricatures between 1896-1898 for the Pick Me Up magazine “Through the opera glass”. Arnold Goldsworthy wrote the articles about the plays and Sime drew the actors.

    It’s amazing one way or another we have been producing these pieces for well over 100 years in print. Isn’t it wonderful some things don’t change very much.

    You can see these very old theatrical caricatures at Sime Gallery Worplesdon. All 213 tell the wonderful history of the actors and actresses of a bygone time some very notable names are amongst them.

    All I know is we are lucky the great and the good actors of today that are still acting in Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

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