Park Theatre, London – until 4 September 2021
Guest reviewer: Emily Cliff
When I was 11 years old my mum took me to the cinema to go and see The Woman in Black with my sister and my nan. At the time that film starring Daniel Radcliffe was a 12A meaning we could see it if I was accompanied by an adult. For those that know the film, I can assure you it probably isn’t the best film for an 11 year old that still screams when her shadow moves the wrong way girl. I was traumatised, I had to leave the cinema early and I can safely say I thought she was hiding under my bed for a whole year after seeing that film. It is safe to say that that traumatic experience generally put me off the horror genre for the rest of my adolescent years.
When Darkness Falls is a play made up of five ghost stories told by a writer to a local history teacher on the island of Guernsey for the history society’s weekly vlog. Sounds harmless right? Just your average campfire tales of folklore and legend, the kind of stories told by a kid who swore he saw a shadow in the window of that abandoned house, or the kid who swears he saw the shower curtain move when he said candyman or bloody mary in the mirror five times.
It’s a constant battle between believers and the people who are looking for a logical explanation, there was a storm coming so there was a big draft, the house is old, it’s probably full of old shadows; a trick of the light. The play perfectly captures the debates over the existence of the paranormal, adding the first layer to the tension already building onstage.
From the offset the atmosphere in the theatre is filled with an eerie aura. The chemistry between John Blondel, portrayed by Will Barton, and the storyteller portrayed by Alex Phelps is impeccable. From every shared line and moment they bounce off each other, setting the bar higher and higher for the energy and intensity of the performance as the stories grow scarier and closer to home, leading up to the shocking twist at the end. Easter eggs are laid throughout this play to hint to the audience of what’s to come later on. It’s not until the end of the play, when we finally look back at those oddities and little details, that we realise the answer to the mystery was under our noses the entire time.
The air was thick with an eerie tension. Clever lighting and incredible acting made such a simple set and small cast feel like a million dollar hollywood film. It was the lighting that made this show so special. Blackouts on stage leading to jump scares and ghostly figures appearing, really added to the sinister feeling that was already on stage. Alex Phelps whole heartedly captured the audience in his fist and had everyone hanging off every last word. It is something about our human nature when we hear the beginning of an unsettling story, you don’t know it has you in its grasp before it’s too late and your choking on the rising tension in the air.
A shocking twist was really the cherry on the top of this ghostly play. I think it is safe to say that everyone left the show that night, with their phone brightness a little louder, happier music in their earphones on the tube home and a longing sense of looking over their shoulder for ghostly figures. The storytelling and writing of this play was similar to that of the Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor: sinister, captivating and immersive. Be careful not to burn your marshmallows when listening to these campfire stories, and be sure to turn an extra light on when you leave this show, you never know what might be hiding around the corner when darkness falls…
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