Tag Archives: Pamela Raith

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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Heathers

Heathers

★★★

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Heathers

Heathers

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Reviewed – 12th July 2021

★★★

 

“a shouty affair that drowns out much of the tragedy, truth and trauma running through the heart of the piece”

 

I approach “Heathers the Musical” somewhat as an outsider. In a seemingly packed, though socially distanced auditorium, I am detached from the majority of the audience. Although I am hoping to be drawn in, and accepted. Based on the eighties’ movie, which originally flopped only to become a cult; the musical rapidly became a cult in its own right while skipping the pre-requisite critical rejection that qualifies its status. What marks this production out from the start is the enthusiasm with which it is presented and received. Everything about it is heightened and it often feels like you are in a cartoon.

Set very specifically in 1989, it adopts the high school setting so popular at the time, but twists the genre into something much darker. It reaches further than the typical subject matter of peer pressure and rebellion and attempts to grapple with teenage suicide and the fatal attraction of belonging to a clique. The clique in question is a trio of girls, all called Heather, who hold sway with a swagger that pushes credibility to the limit. For reasons governed by plot clichés, the protagonist – Veronica – is desperate to run with this pack. To say that she eventually outruns them is no spoiler; we can all see it coming as visibly as the love interest side-line.

What rescues the storyline are the quirks, the shocks and body-count that we don’t anticipate. And the oddball minor characters that outshine the leads in most cases. Andy Fickman’s production is a shouty affair that drowns out much of the tragedy, truth and trauma running through the heart of the piece. The more successful moments are when the volume gets turned down and the irony and sporadic subversiveness is allowed to be heard.

Christina Bennington is in fine voice as Veronica, torn between following her fantasy (in the shape of the three Heathers) or her conscience, represented by the Baudelaire reading, enigmatic Jason ‘JD’ Dean; gleefully played with a tongue-in-cheek assuredness by Jordan Luke Gage. His rapid metamorphosis from sympathetic to psychopathic is fun to watch. Less so are the eponymous Heathers; Jodie Steele, Bobbie Little and Frances Mayli McCann who screech far too much for their own good. At least Steele has the advantage of her ‘Heather’ being killed off fairly early on, allowing her to come back and haunt the perpetrators – a sardonic ghost that sheds more light and shade on proceedings than those still alive and clinging onto a script that is pulling them under.

It is buoyed up by the music that, despite its subject matter, powers the piece with energy and optimism. Bizarrely this sense of optimism and misplaced nostalgia is what characterises “Heathers” which, in effect, is a musical about high school killers. It makes light of the issues but doesn’t succeed in highlighting them by the humour. But what do I know? As I said at the start – I am the outsider; detached from the rest of the audience. There’s no denying this is a solid production, with a dream cast of West End talent. And there’s no denying its guaranteed success. It has bludgeoned its way into its cult status – but at the cost of sensitivity.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith 

 


Heathers

Theatre Royal Haymarket until 11th September

 

Previously reviewed by Jonathan this year:
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Remembering the Oscars | ★★★ | Online | March 2021
Disenchanted | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021
Cruise | ★★★★★ | Duchess Theatre | May 2021
Amélie The Musical | ★★★★ | Criterion Theatre | June 2021
Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | June 2021
Forgetful Heart | ★★★★ | Online | June 2021
Express G&S | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | June 2021
The Hooley | ★★★★★ | Chiswick House & Gardens | June 2021
Staircase | ★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | June 2021
Bad Days And Odd Nights | ★★★★★ | Greenwich Theatre | June 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews