Review: Murder in the Dark is a thrillingly twisted night out in Northampton
If you leave the theatre trying to piece together what you have just viewed, then chances are you've had a great night out.
And that's how I left Murder in the Dark at the Royal & Derngate this week. The 30-minute drive home with my friend was spent discussing the hounds of hell versus the hounding press at the door, as we attempted to unravel the web of symbolism permeating Torben Betts' screenplay.
It begins as a traditional haunted-house horror as a group of car-crash survivors are left stranded at an isolated farmhouse, and unfolds into an unsettling psychological thriller, punctuated with jump scares and uncomfortable humour in equal measure.
Fallen pop star Danny Sierra (Tom Chambers) is a ball of anxiety from the moment he rushes into the unsettling farmstead, and being surrounded by his estranged extended family only heightens the tension.
Former Holby City star Chambers is remarkable as the alcoholic antihero with something to hide, but it is Susie Blake who brings the biggest laughs with her unnerving portrayal of farmer's wife Mrs Bateman.
Solid support is provided by Rebecca Charles as Danny's long suffering ex-wife Rebecca and Jonny Green as his vulnerable son Jake. Meanwhile Owen Oakeshott, playing Danny's older brother William, and Laura White as Danny's latest young squeeze Sarah, add to the cacophony of twists, turns and distractions.
Dramatic lighting and sound design build genuine tension and the clever set design also creates plenty of horrific surprises.
Horror fans will delight in the homages to Hitchcock's Psycho and Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap together with modern movie slasher X and psychological thriller Black Swan.
To say anymore would be to spoil the experience but suffice to say the first half sets the scene leaving the audience picking over scraps of clues during the interval. Come the second half the storyline rapidly, and deliberately, unravels before everything falls imperfectly into place during the final moments.
Like the perfect horror film, the play is a concise 90 minutes, meaning the pace never slackens and the apparitions never outstay their welcome.
A genre-bending twisted night out that will stay with you long after the dark journey home.
Until October 21. Visit royalandderngate.co.uk to book.