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Review: Torben Betts thriller, Murder in the Dark 2024 – New Theatre Cardiff

Are you brave enough to uncover the truth?

Murder in the Dark. Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

For one week only, go inside the mind of acclaimed writer Torben Betts, as Original Theatre bring the Murder in the Dark UK tour to the New Theatre, Cardiff.

It’s a dark winter’s evening here at the New Theatre, and we all know we’re here to watch a ghost story of kinds but the foyer is alight with laughter and joy before the audience takes its seats. However, this quickly evaporates as the curtain begins to lift up, and an eery silence falls upon the auditorum.

New Theatre, Cardiff.

I can’t think of a more perfect location to watch a thriller than a 118 year old Edwardian theatre. The character of the building is almost an extention of the stage itself when watching something like this. Flicking through the programme, you are reminded to spread the word and not the spoilers, so that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

We’re already waiting for the first fright when we’re taken back to New Year’s Eve, when a car crash on a deserted road results in its occupants find themselves having to stay at a local farm in the middle of nowhere. Due to the bad weather conditions, they have no choice but to stay put until morning, if they can make it through the night, of course.

Murder in the Dark. Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

The story centres itself around famous but troubled singer Danny Sierra (Holby City’s Tom Chambers) and his dysfunctional family. You are slowly introduced to each character in the play, first meeting Mrs Bateman (Susie Blake, Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d / Victoria Wood’s As Seen on TV) who is the farm’s owner, who offers them shelter in a local cottage. Sarah, Danny’s ‘current’ girlfiend played by Laura White arrives with him, but it doesn’t take too long to see that the honeymoon period is over, and it isn’t quite the relationship that they both want. Mrs Bateman proves to be an interesting character with her apparent quick wit at times and brutal honesty, which draws a few laughs in the crowd.

Murder in the Dark. Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

This is then followed by Danny’s brother William (Owen Oakshott). It transpires that they’re travelling back from their mother’s funeral, and that the two brothers haven’t spoken in years. Whereas Danny appears to be living the high life, his brother is much more grounded and a dependable member of the family. Danny’s son Jake (Jonny Green) is an up and coming musican, which his father struggles with. Jake has his own challenges in life, which are amplified by the lack of a father figure. Completing the family picture his is ex-wife Rebecca (Rebecca Charles), who was also travelling back with them. Both mother and son look for any opportunity to point out to Danny his shortcomings, and blame him for everything wrong in their lives. Their amonisty is shown by them calling Danny by his real name, Nigel. They probably aren’t wrong either.

Murder in the Dark. Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

The first act mostly unfolds the family’s relationship or lack of, with Danny, who seemingly ditched all of them to follow his dreams to become famous. You can hear a pin drop in the auditorium, as people expect a fright at every corner. Even the creek of a door is enough to set off some members of the audience, but here comes the clever bit. These are carefully weaved into the beats of the story. It’s slow starting, but each one of these moments draw you into the story, which is what makes this a thriller. The door slam moments, quickly fizzle out, and never really come to fruition. This certainly leaves you with a sigh of relief and helps calm the audience, but it isn’t long before the next bump and you’ll be jumping in your seat again. It’s the fact that you’re expecting something to happen, which makes you react.

It’s during the second act when the jigsaw pieces start to come together. The unexplained moments of the first act, which you may or may not have brushed off, start to mean something. It begins to ramp up in act 2 as one thing leads to the next and you begin to realise the point of everything. I shall say no more.

Heading back to staging, the setup is very simple and it’s quite clever how the space is used to convey different parts of the story. The fact that it uses low lighting throughout, with a moody and intense asmotphere conjured up by the characters, is what really sets the scene of this production. There might be some subtle references to Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap, so look out for those.

Murder in the Dark is a ghost story like no other, full of psychological twists that will leave you on the edge of your seat.

We must also recognise the production’s legendary director Philip Franks. You may recongise his name from the Darling Buds of May TV series, and as well as a whole host of accolades, he is a self-confessed horror addic. Although this production isn’t a horror as such, you can see where his experience comes in, which makes him the puppetmaster of this show, carefully controlling all the moving parts and dropping breadcrumbs throughout for the audience to follow.

Murder in the Dark is showing at the New Theatre Cardiff until Saturday, 2nd March 2024. Tickets start from £24*. Click here to find out more and to book online.

*School’s rate. £20 pupils with one teacher free for every 10 tickets purchased.