Alex Phelps and Will Barton star opposite one another in tense two-hander When Darkness Falls, set in Guernsey and inspired by local paranormal folklore. We talked to them about the play and things that go bump in the night.
The play, co-written by James Milton and Paul Morrissey, who also directs, continues its limited run at London’s Park Theatre until 4 September 2021 ahead of a regional tour. Time to get booking!
Tell us about your character in When Darkness Falls.
Alex: I play a character called The Speaker, an enigmatic, ethereal, oracular researcher who has arrived on Guernsey to deliver five stories that must be told.
Will: I play John Blondel. He is a slightly nerdy historian from Guernsey who has started to do vlogs for the islanders. But what is interesting is the link that John is unaware about between him and his guest in the latest vlog. The subject being “The Paranormal”. John is a non-believer in ghosts and apparitions, but is he in denial?
What’s been your journey with the production trying to get it on during Covid?
Alex: We’re incredibly lucky in that the play is a two-hander, which involves both characters never having to come into contact, meaning we could remain socially distanced throughout. We’re still doing regular lateral flow tests every few days, and the Park has taken the utmost precautions to make our team and the audience feel as safe as possible.
At a time when the creative industry is in crisis, we want to be encouraging people to come back to theatres, enjoy an evening of live entertainment and feel safe whilst doing so. I believe our play and the Park are achieving this! It’s wonderful to have people there.
#WhenDarknessFalls was also the first time back in a theatre for many audience members.
— Terri Paddock (@TerriPaddock) August 25, 2021
Will: We were socially distanced in rehearsal as much as we could be. We also have been taking Covid tests regularly. Thankfully, we are all vaccinated.
Do you believe in ghosts? Ever encountered one?
Alex: My only strange encounter was when I was 16. I used to suffer from sleep paralysis. If you have never heard of it, please have a look. It’s awful. The basic feeling was waking up, becoming aware of my surroundings and then not being able to move. Once awake, I felt two hands press my chest into the bed and keep me there. Eventually, I snapped out of it and it’s scared me ever since.
Will: I don’t believe in actual ghosts. Shame, as I would love to meet one. However, we can be haunted by things from our past. And perhaps that is part of what makes When Darkness Falls interesting.
What scares you?
Alex: What scares me? Loss, I think. It’s probably been heightened because of the last year, my family has been directly impacted by Covid, and although we haven’t lost anyone, it’s been a struggle. Too long of a story to share here, but I think it’s the fear of losing those closest, without warning, that can frighten.
That and the typical actor fear of ‘will I ever work again?’ It sounds an almost pessimistic question, but it’s not that. I’m an optimist. It’s more a realistic question that gets asked quietly from time to time.
Will: I’m not sure much scares me. I did see a bloke with a massive knife the other day not standing on the pavement as I cycled past. I called the Police and they came within five minutes to apprehend him as I waited around the corner.
Why should audiences see the show?
Alex: Stories! Ghost stories! The play centres around the very foundations of theatre, film, television, stories and our personal connection to them. It’s also complex and rich in dialogue, entertaining and will get the little hairs on the back of your neck stood up.
Will: Audiences should see the show because it’s got great lighting, amazing paranormal illusions, scary soundscape, excellent set, and of course, two actors playing off one another to give an entertaining hour and a half’s theatre. No time to get bored.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Alex: ‘That something is difficult should be one more reason to do it’ from Rainer Maria Rilke‘s Letters to a Young Poet. A book any aspiring artist should read.