Park Theatre, London – until 4 September 2021
There’s no mistaking the mood of When Darkness Falls. As we enter the Park Theatre main stage, everything seems in silhouette. In an oddly old-fashioned Guernsey office filled with filing cabinets and desk lamps, our main man is getting ready to record a vlog on the island’s ghosts. While waiting for his guest, a researcher of the paranormal, he practises his intros and starts to feel anxious as time is limited.
When the researcher arrives, wringing wet from having crossed the sea to Guernsey in a howling storm, there are no formalities. The camera is on. It’s straight into the action.
What follows are ghoulish stories of inflamed spirits. Based on recorded historical events drawn from the folk memory of the community, there are tales of dying mothers, murdered babies, tortured men, and families compromised by greed and need.
Starring Will Barton as John, the vlogger, and Alex Phelps as the researcher, this is a short and moody piece. Writers James Milton and Paul Morrissey have deliberately created a character who avoids the pitfalls of camp horror in his storytelling. This is a man who studies ghosts, not one who invokes them for effect. Eschewing the actions or inflections of the fireside raconteur, he favours detail over drama.
The thrills are provided by the set and the soundscape: bumps and thumps, flickering lights, moving furniture. Outside, the wind continues to howl. The only trope of horror we don’t get is ectoplasm.
When Darkness Falls is built around the speaker who speaks for 80 of the 90 minutes. An occasional squeak rose from within the audience, but Paul Morrissey’s production is essentially well-oiled storytelling. There’s more pacing than pace.
This play won’t give you sleepless nights. It does give you rich historical detail. I imagine anyone who enjoys ghost stories went rushing home to Google Guernsey’s dark history.