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When Darkness Falls – at Park Theatre, London | Review

I was, to be fair, momentarily spooked during When Darkness Falls, though on reflection this would appear to be more to do with a sudden blast of noise rather than anything visually frightening. A storm is brewing outside, and John (Will Barton) is putting together a ‘vlog’ for members of the Guernsey Historical Society. Except I’m not entirely sure whether I was watching a lecture or a radio play: perhaps because of the play’s setting – John’s office – there’s a lot of exposition.

Alex Phelps in When Darkness Falls, credit Pamela Raith.
Alex Phelps in When Darkness Falls, credit Pamela Raith.

The Speaker (Alex Phelps), nothing to do with the House of Commons, at least in this instance, is the invited guest, who has come to talk about paranormal activity on Guernsey. There has, apparently, been plenty over the centuries, and story after story is told, one set in the eighteenth century, another in 1729, and another in 1651, before the narrative surges forward to the Second World War, and then to around 1970. The Speaker is a good narrator. While his stories are told with some enthusiasm, and the attention to detail is impressive, I still found it difficult to fully invest in these tales of strange occurrences. It came across as a series of events being described, with little in the way of analysis as to why such spooky stuff went on.

There is some speculation, particularly from John, who more often than not dismisses the documented events as figments of people’s imaginations, or even hallucinations elicited by (amongst other things) Alzheimer’s disease or an over-dependence on prescription drugs. The set eventually comes into its own, with things that move about without logical explanation (well, aside from good old automation, but let’s suspend disbelief at the theatre doors). These are, however, disparate stories, with no serious attempt to link them other than by way of geographical proximity.

Despite being a single-act play, it goes on a bit, and even John at one point yells at his guest to finish his collection of stories. The characters’ (non) reactions to various supposedly frightening events didn’t exactly go hand in hand with the spirit of scary stories, even if they were about as petrified as I was. (Be still, my beating heart – oh, I’m sorry, it is.) But at least the production isn’t melodramatic, and its relatively subtle approach is also evident in the set and lighting design.

The audience is never allowed to forget that John is there, even as The Speaker, so to speak, has the floor. There are interjections, explanations, questions. While some loose ends are tied up by the end, many others remain in limbo: this isn’t so much frightening as mysterious. Most spooky of all, without giving too much away, are the harrowing aspects of improper human behaviour rather than anything ghosts or ghouls may or may not have achieved. An engaging but unnecessarily complicated play that didn’t need quite so many stories to get its point across.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

When Darkness Falls is the brand new spine-chilling ghost story that delivers a twisted, terrifying and thrilling tale that will haunt you forever.

Set on the island of Guernsey, When Darkness Falls tells the story of a teacher who runs the local Historical Society. Tonight, as part of the weekly Vlog, a young paranormal expert is giving a talk on the island’s incredible folklore and paranormal history. As the teacher films, the speaker regales horrifying stories. Stories that can only occur on a small, isolated island. Tonight, the teacher will learn exactly what happens when the wind blows, the seas swell and darkness falls.

Based on true events, this powerful new production by James Milton and Paul Morrissey draws us into dark pasts, revealing disturbing truths and unforgettable terrors that never die.

When Darkness Falls
By James Milton and Paul Morrissey
Directed by Paul Morrissey

LISTINGS INFORMATION
WHEN DARKNESS FALLS
18 August – 4 September 2021
Park200, Park Theatre
Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park
London, N4 3JP
www.parktheatre.co.uk

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