murder dark

Pictures. Pamela Raith

Murder in the Dark

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


Alfred Hitchcock once famously said, there was a difference between surprise and suspense. Playwright Torben Betts would have benefitted from holding that thought with Murder in the Dark.

Surprise has been replaced with confusion and suspense has given way to melodramatic family arguments. Similar to classic mysteries the audience are sworn to secrecy, which is a rather self-inflated way of considering the work more original than it really is.

In this assortment of loosely connected scenes, we have former popstar and alcoholic Danny Sierra. He arrives somewhere, we don’t know where, it’s New Year’s Eve and he’s crashed his car.

He and his feisty girlfriend have taken refuge from the stormy night, at some run down cottage. They are in the overwhelming company of the odd Mrs Bateman. The cottage has no facilities, Wi-Fi, or phone signal which adds to their despair and no doubt many bad reviews on TripAdvisor.

Story wise that would seem to be a good beginning, but just when you are settling down to a potentially good plot, Danny’s family arrives out of nowhere and without explanation. You sit tight and hope that it will be revealed why but no, trusting again that all will be revealed.  

Tom and Susie

Tom Chambers as Danny and Susie Blake as Mrs Bateman.

What follows are a few jumpy moments, a long explanation of the dysfunctional issues of a broken family, and a comedic soup scene that’s straight out of The Young Frankenstein. Betts may have a thing for comedy but there is an identity crisis here that destroys any suspense that might be building. The one thing that does have clarity is the fact that no one is happy with Danny. A bad father, brother, husband, boyfriend he can’t get a break, a signal or a drink and it gets worse.

It’s these deeper elements of Danny’s personality that are at the core to the ultimate twist in the play. Unfortunately getting to it is a rather uneven and bumpy ride with some fairly far-fetched ideas to round the plot off. When you finally get it, you spend the last ten minutes of the ending trying to work out what has gone before. Thinking it was just me, I was relieved to find others around who didn’t get what they had seen either.

Due to this fact, the play does stay with you after its end, but it’s for the wrong reasons. The writing is not in the calibre of say Michael Night Shyamalan of whose plot principles have been casually borrowed for Murder in the Dark.

As you weave back over the past 90 minutess you realise disappointingly that things that have happened have no bearing on the plot, they are there just to get you to the creaky ending. None of this is helped by the rather quiet on stage dialogue versus the deafening sound effects, which again are all surprising rather than suspenseful. Full marks to the cast though who do enough to keep things moving and each member is given the opportunity to express themselves dramatically.

Tom Chambers works hard to elevate his character Danny into a state of hysteria whilst staving off everyone’s constant disappointment with his past actions. Mrs Bateman is played by Susie Blake, who keeps popping up as the 70 something host, who has been lacking male company for some time and with Danny now in her lusty sights. She’s handy with her DIY skills too as similar to her character the old fuse box keeps blowing. Excellent support comes in the form of Laura White the aloof girl friend , Jonny Green as Danny’s bitter and overlooked son, Rebecca Charles as his ex-wife and Owen Oakeshott as his lost and broken brother.

While there’s a reasonable amount of connective tissue to make a moderate amount of entertainment your jaw will stay far from dropped with more chills from the air conditioning than on the stage. The strong performances help it cross the finish line, but any comparison to The Mousetrap in keeping its secrets is far-fetched, as at times it’s simply all cheese. To 11-11-23.

Jeff Grant


Murder will be darkening the the stages of the Midlands again in 2024 at Derby Theatres, 15-20 January, and Malvern Theatres, 19-24 February. 

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