Tag Archives: Justin Williams

When Darkness Falls

When Darkness Falls

★★★

Park Theatre

When Darkness Falls

When Darkness Falls

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 24th August 2021

★★★

 

“The creative elements of the show keep us spellbound, although the writing does come into its own as the fear factor increases”

 

It was a dark and stormy night…

The night in question is an indeterminate, though definitely stormy, one in 2017. John Blondel (Will Barton), a local teacher and historian, is preparing for a talk with a young author and paranormal expert as part of a weekly Vlog he is broadcasting for the island’s Historical Society. As part of his groundwork, he is researching the great storm of 1987; listening to soundbites from the news reports and the now famous failure of the Met Office to foresee the ill wind blowing. The significance of the comparatively light-hearted opening will become clear as the evening progresses, and darkens.

It is a well-known fact that part of the human condition is programmed to enjoy being scared – or rather ‘safely scared’. The proliferation of ghost stories in literature, film and stage bear witness to that. The effect is heightened when the source material is based on true events, as is James Milton’s and Paul Morrissey’s “When Darkness Falls”. We are promised five tales gleaned from Guernsey’s folklore and paranormal history. John Blondel is a self-confessed sceptic and unbeliever and regards the forthcoming interview with a foreboding flippancy and is initially more concerned with his supply of coffee and biscuits and the lack of punctuality of his guest. Will Barton captures the untidy mind of the character with an assured realism, suggesting that his pragmatism is not as solid as he would like to make out. More sinister is Alex Phelps’ unnamed speaker who coolly challenges his host’s disbelief.

The haunting tales the speaker relates bridge five centuries, covering witch hunts, burning, murder, ghoulish canines, revenge, piracy, the Nazi occupation; among others. There is a connecting thread but initially it struggles to snare the audience. Instead, the piece really picks up when the ghost story leaves the realms of anecdote and starts to filter into the action unfolding before us, and we realise that the two characters are existing within their own horror story. The script works best when it strays away from the ghost story and speculates on the human condition that gives rise to these stories. A brief discussion on mourning and melancholia, for instance, or the notion that history is not fact but perceived; therefore, everything is possible in our perception. Even ghosts.

The fantasy is sharpened by Daniel Higgott’s sound design and Bethany Gupwell’s lighting that create more of the magic than the dialogue – but all too sporadic to keep the hairs on our necks standing for long. John Bulleid’s magic and illusion design works wonders in tandem with Justin Williams’ beautifully crafted set that cleverly conjures up the state of John’s mind as well as the cluttered chaos that impels us to seek a supernatural cause beyond a crumbling rational.

The creative elements of the show keep us spellbound, although the writing does come into its own as the fear factor increases. We were promised five ghost stories – but in truth we have four. The fifth is the reality that delivers the stinging twist in the tale, and that is what ultimately bristles the hairs on our necks more than anything that goes bump in the night.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


When Darkness Falls

Park Theatre until 4th September

 

2021 Shows reviewed by Jonathan:
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
Remembering the Oscars | ★★★ | Online | March 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Disenchanted | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021
Cruise | ★★★★★ | Duchess Theatre | May 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021
Amélie The Musical | ★★★★ | Criterion Theatre | June 2021
Bad Days And Odd Nights | ★★★★★ | Greenwich Theatre | June 2021
Express G&S | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | June 2021
Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | June 2021
The Hooley | ★★★★★ | Chiswick House & Gardens | June 2021
Forgetful Heart | ★★★★ | Online | June 2021
Staircase | ★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | June 2021
Be More Chill | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | July 2021
Heathers | ★★★ | Theatre Royal Haymarket | July 2021
The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | July 2021
My Night With Reg | ★★★★ | The Turbine Theatre | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | August 2021
The Windsors: Endgame | ★★★ | Prince of Wales Theatre | August 2021
The Rice Krispie Killer | ★★★★ | Lion and Unicorn Theatre | August 2021
Constellations | ★★★★ | Vaudeville Theatre | August 2021
Operation Mincemeat | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | August 2021

 

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Who Cares

Who Cares

★★★★★

VAULT Festival 2020

Who Cares

Who Cares

Cage – The Vaults

Reviewed – 21st February 2020

★★★★★

 

“The lightness in the whole production betrays the skilful way in which the story is told and the issues explored”

 

Austerity Britain has a lot to answer for with its meaningless and mean-spirited social re-engineering responsible for many devastating things in contemporary society, not least the tearing apart of communities.

Many writers have been inspired by the crisis yet in Conor Hunt’s powerful new play “Who Cares” politics take a back seat to the more important reality of friendship winning through against all odds.

Last year Anna Jordan’s “We Anchor in Hope” showed how the closure of local pubs to make way for supermarket express stores, classy restaurants and luxury flats was ripping the heart out of community life.

In “Who Cares” the starting point is the same, as friendly Manchester local The Crown faces closure. But the pub is a sanctuary for a young disabled man, the only place he feels safe after being forced to move with his mum from their Camden flat because the council hadn’t the time to fix a broken lift.

Instead of descending into the sort of sentimentality beloved of TV soaps, a play which could so easily have focussed on a person’s disability stands out for concentrating on the value of true friendship, fighting against the odds and breaking away from self-imposed limitations.

The two characters are so well-developed over the course of an hour that this genuinely feels like a promising pilot for a TV sitcom. You can engage and empathise with them from the start and we want to know more about their lives and futures.

Reece Pantry’s Jamie suffers from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a form of the long-term degenerative condition Muscular Dystrophy. Pantry, who has MD himself, quickly avoids any attempt to milk sympathy, believably portraying the sense of isolation and desperate need to save a pub where he feels accepted for who he is. It is no surprise Muscular Dystrophy UK has been so supportive of the production.

Kyle Rowe has the confident air of a young Christopher Eccleston in the role of pub landlord Daniel. Beneath the bluff Northern exterior lies a tender sincerity and the relationship between the two men is beautifully painted, from Dan helping Jamie fill out important forms to the pair singing Sonny and Cher at a karaoke.

There is an hilarious and touching scene in which Dan finds a Snow White outfit and wears it knowing how ridiculous he looks just to help his friend gain confidence in chatting up girls. The sight of Rowe in the costume will be one of the lasting images from this year’s VAULT Festival.

Emma-Louise Howell directs with a touch that is firm enough to move the plot along, yet with a delicacy that allows the two characters to develop naturally. The lightness in the whole production betrays the skilful way in which the story is told and the issues explored.

The set (Justin Williams) is an extraordinary recreation of a pub interior, at the start littered with the debris of a hen party the night before. Later on comedian Bradley Walsh even manages to make a sort of cameo appearance. It is a good example to others of using decent set and props fully rather than leaving absolutely everything to the imagination. Lighting (Joseph Ed Thomas) and sound (Jack Ridley) also do much to evoke the various moods.

It is refreshing to see such mature writing from someone up and coming and Hunt is clearly going to be a name to watch. Despite its warm heart “Who Cares” also has the capacity to provoke and dares to ask hard-hitting questions in a battered Britain.

 

Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Ali Wright

 

VAULT Festival 2020

 

 

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