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Murder in the Dark - Royal and Derngate Review

Reviewed by Mark Johnson

Murder in the Dark is described as a "spine-chilling ghost story, turned psychological thriller" but does it deliver an exciting night at the theatre?

Photo by Pamela Raith

Torben Betts' new play delves into both the spooky and dark whilst balancing with a little bit of humour. Betts has created an intriguing setup that seems to unravel on itself in the second act ultimately leaving a bit of head scratching as you leave the theatre a little bit puzzled after a frantic final 15 minutes.

The premise is centered around singer Danny, who is washed out and now reliant on drink and other medications. On the night of his mother's funeral, Danny is in a car crash that leaves him and his family in the middle of nowhere with inclement weather taking hold. The mysterious Mrs Bateman takes them in offering refuge in an isolated cottage on her farm. The cottage is of course cut off from any phone signal or wifi and has electrics with a complete mind of their own.

Arriving with his current much younger partner, his estranged brother followed by his ex-partner and their son. The first act whistles by setting up the premise adding in moments of great mysterious intrigue which leaves you guessing where the piece is heading by the time you get to the interval.

Without spoiling things, the second act delves deeper into the characters' minds, lives, and pasts as truths come out that change the course of events, but as more things happen it becomes a little lost in what it's trying to be with a lot packed into the second act. Leaving for an ending that doesn't quite land.

Director Philip Franks has a keen eye for horror as a genre and alongside the impressive design, the piece is visually impactful. Simon Kenny's design for the cottage uses the space well, combining with Paul Pyant's lighting to help with the mystery as it flickers and is rightly dark. Often the characters themselves use their mobile phones for torches to see. Max Pappenheim's sound and music build and layer the whole piece brilliantly with an air of sinister about it.

The most impressive performance comes by Susie Blake as Mrs Bateman. From the get-go she is mysterious, there's certainly layers to the characterisation that Blake delivers with great skill. Combining humour and intrigue is no easy feat and she makes everything seem so easy and natural.

Tom Chambers as Danny manages to show the strain of a man down on his luck and a little lost in the world. He always promises that tomorrow will be the day he gives up drink or the medication, but as the characters remind him that tomorrow never comes. Chambers shows that broken man well.

All in all the piece I suspect is a real marmite production. You will either get it or come away like I did feeling a little disappointed. It's superbly entertaining to watch and staged cleverly enough to keep you engaged but doesn't quite reach the heights that the first act promises.


Murder in the Dark plays at the Royal in Northampton until Saturday 21st October. Tickets are available from The production continues touring with dates booking through until March 2024. Visit for dates and booking details.

Tom Chambers and Susie Blake in Murder in the Dark. Photo by Pamela Raith

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