Winter, tis the season for spine-chilling dramas! Hot on the heels (or should that be cold) of Wickies and 2:22 A Ghost Story, James Milton and Paul Morrissey’s new spine-chilling play, When Darkness Falls, pays a visit to Richmond Theatre as part of its UK tour.
The action takes place on present-day Guernsey, where we first meet John Blondel, played by Tony Timberlake, a history teacher and President of the Guernsey Historical Society. He is preparing for the arrival of a special guest speaker who is to appear on the society’s inaugural podcast, to talk about the paranormal history of the island.
His guest, a young man played by Thomas Dennis, is armed with a bag containing files and tapes which he uses as evidence to back up the four supernatural stories which he is eager to share on John’s podcast These stories of Guernsey’s supernatural past, offer an alternative history of the island and his mission seems to be to convince John, a cynic who believes in empirical evidence over handed-down folk stories, that ghost do exist and the evidence is held within the stories and testimonies from Guernsey’s history.
The script is rich with real-life supernatural stories, which has been an obvious labour of love for co-writer and historian James Milton. Stories of “Tchen Bodu”, a ghostly black hound, witch hunting and the sighting of a ghostly women covered in blood, all help to gives the play a rich historical grounding, as well as upping the scare factor for John and the audience. However, as a two hander, there are times when the play initially feels rather static, more like a lecture or a debate, as we hear the stories as they are told for the podcast. There is a welcome change as the piece develops, when Timberlake and Dennis act out the characters of the particular stories, allowing us to see the drama rather than just hear it.
This is particularly successful in the retelling of a horrific story concerning the fate of an English soldier during the Nazi occupation of Guernsey. Here too the lighting and production design come into the fore, as we are transported from a mundane office, to the dark underground WWII hospital. Bethany Gupwell‘s superb lighting design is a beautifully-modulated mix of shadows and haze, unnervingly suggesting what could be waiting in the unseen.
Timberlake imbues his portrayal as the non-believing historian with a measured relatability. As such, we share his rollercoaster journey from scepticism to fearful belief, as he begins to experience ghostly happenings for himself as the stories unfold. Dennis brings a compelling earnestness to the role of the guest speaker and the two work well bringing to life their differing points of view on the legitimacy of the ghost stories being told.
As well as co-writing, Paul Morrissey also directs and has created an intense, atmospheric production guaranteed to unnerve you. It not only gives you the thrills, tricks and twists you might expect, but also by focusing on authentic local folk lore from the rich history of Guernsey, When Darkness Falls allows a deeper exploration into the very nature and validity of the ghost story.
The Recs reviewed When Darkness Falls at Richmond Theatre
Chills and thrills aplenty from a classy new ghost story ★★★★