murder cast

The cast of Murder In The Dark. Pictures: Pamela Raith

Murder in the Dark

Derby Theatres


This is the debut tour of playwright Torben Betts’ latest drama. Although the material is new, the pedigree of those involved is well established.

Derby audiences have already savoured his work through previous productions of Invincible and Caroline’s Kitchen. Phillip Franks directs, having enjoyed a distinguished acting career, most notably in The Darling Buds of May and Heartbeat.

 I saw the opening night which was surprisingly, and pleasingly, well attended despite a bitterly cold evening when Derby County football club were playing at home.

 Betts’ programme note pleads for no spoilers . This is a problem for a production which hinges on several surprises. But I will reveal all that can be revealed.

The premise is that it is New Year’s Eve and a car crash on a lonely road brings once famous but troubled singer Danny Sierra and his extended family to an isolated holiday cottage in rural England. A sequence of inexplicable events unfolds… and then the lights go out.

Trying to nail down a genre is no easy task. Murder mystery, horror, tragedy, comedy and melodrama are all present. I did a vox pop prior to curtain up, and the audience were unclear about what it was that they had actually come to see. Ninety minutes later , no consensus had been reached. 

dark duo

Tom Chambers as Danny and Susie Blake as Mrs Bateman

Two cast members dominate proceedings, Tom Chambers is the down on his luck singer drowning his sorrows with alcohol. Susie Blake, fades in and out as the mysterious, mischievous, old Mrs Bateman owner of the farmhouse She is superb and steals the show.

Director Philip Franks has much fun with the story. Parody, pastiche and homage to horror as a genre surface throughout, with skillful assistance from the technical team.

Simon Kenny's design for the cottage is effective and offers several physical surprises, alongside Paul Pyant's lighting to help with the mystery as it flickers and shifts in the dark. Max Pappenheim's sound and music is portentous, haunting and sinister.

Betts chooses to riff on an Agatha Christie closed set model, complete with “Three Blind Mice”. The production is split into two halves of 45 minutes each, pretty much an optimal length for a caper like this. The second act is more satisfying than the first but descends into chaos as Betts tries to pull the cross genre strands together. The physical comedy and shocks are good, the psycho drama plot which emerges is less convincing despite being well written with some laugh out loud jokes. The significance of the title is revealed only at the end.

An appreciative audience offered a warm rousing reception at the end , the show runs until Sat 20-02-24 and continues on national tour. 

Gary Longden


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