When Darkness Falls at Park Theatre
Ghost stories have long been of cultural interest, particularly in Guernsey, which is the setting of producers-turned-co-writers Paul Morrissey and James Milton’s debut stage production.
John Blondel (Will Barton), a former local newspaper editor, is turning his hand to the country’s history. The action takes place in a ramshackle office where he has invited a young author (Alex Phelps) to talk about paranormal happenings on the Channel Island. The writer beguiles his interviewer with five ghost stories across five centuries, tales that are both voluble and tangentially linked.
Although this involute structure is repetitive, the underwhelming aspect of the performance lies in the dramatisation techniques. Theatrically, so much is borrowed from Stephen Mallatratt’s stage adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black that the production feels somewhat derivative.
Much like Mallatratt’s script, the action of When Darkness Falls relies on one character narrating his tale while the other multi-roles to bring it to life. In this case, though, as the protagonist is a paranormally-sceptic journalist, it is incongruous at best in a realistically staged production that Barton suddenly performs multiple roles in stories he knows little about.
Furthermore, there are flagrant technical elements deployed with women appearing by torchlight in blackouts, sudden deafening recordings of shrill screams and a building soundscape of audio bites from the show to support the contrived crescendo at the climax of the production. These staple production techniques fall flat, though, because of the hackneyed script that Morrissey and Milton have co-written, rather than as a result of any failing on behalf of the creative team. Unusual for a ghost story, the only strength to the writing is the occasional comic relief provided by Barton’s character, whose bookish rationalism humorously counterpoints Phelps’s austere devotion to his storytelling.
Additional moments of applause go to Justin Williams’s suitably dilapidated set design and the two actors for remaining resolutely focused, despite glaringly audible interruptions from errant Google Maps directions on an audience member’s unmuted phone. Otherwise, the only thing When Darkness Falls proves is dramatised ghost stories can fall somewhat flat without original and theatrically sound scriptwriting to support it.
Photo: Pamela Raith
When Darkness Falls is at Park Theatre from 18th August until 4th September 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.