Original Theatre presents the world premiere of Torben Betts' brand new psychological thriller Murder in the Dark this Autumn.
Thrusting you into darkness, this thrilling new ghost story starring Tom Chambers and Susie Blake will have you on the edge of your seat right to the very end! Are you brave enough to join us at OP this September?
Though we wouldn't want to spoil the excitement of all the twists and turns, read on to find out more about the writer Torben Betts and what inspired Murder in the Dark...
What was the inspiration behind Murder In The Dark?
Well, it's very hard to talk about that without giving too much away but it's fair to say that Murder In The Dark is something of a departure for me as regards genre (if I am known for anything as a playwright it's for dark comedies of social embarrassment with a bit of political commentary thrown in) and its genesis was certainly unusual. Alastair Whatley of Original Theatre challenged me to write something that would, hopefully, both disturb and entertain audiences and actually gave me the title as something to start from. I immediately thought of something creepy happening during protracted periods of faulty lighting. I had only a weekend to come up with a treatment and, necessity being the mother of invention, the kernel of an idea occurred to me very quickly. I had the first draft done in a matter of weeks and, thankfully, it met with the approval of all concerned and now here we are!
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
My regular writing process is rather different from that as detailed above. When you are commissioned to write a play, there are usually some criteria to be met: the type of play required (comedy or thriller or straight for example), type of audience, venue or venues etc. Most of the plays I have written over the last twenty years have been written on spec: that is to say an idea comes to me and I just sit down and write it, regardless of who is likely to read or produce it (increasingly tough these days to get either done) and without any piper, as it were, paying for the tune. For example, the next play of mine to be produced (hopefully in 2024) is about the mysterious deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Lee Harvey Oswald and Dorothy Kilgallen, the journalist who was investigating the Kennedy assassination. This came about from me falling down a YouTube wormhole one afternoon and then reading extensively on the subject for a few weeks afterwards.
Have you always been interested in the paranormal and/or horror films?
I love a good horror film like the rest of us and I think one of the most disturbing events of my early life was watching the first Omen film with my parents when I was about ten. Not sure how I was allowed to do that! I had nightmares for weeks afterwards. I think the best horror films recently are the simple ones and those that remove the fourth wall, like TheBlair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activities and Rec. Although I do like films that deal with the supernatural, I'm afraid I’m the kind of person who might make Richard Dawkins look like a believer in ghosts. I believe in the magic of reality and science and that there are more than enough wonders in this universe without us having to believe in fairytales. That said, it's still fun to write this kind of thing!
You have worked with Original Theatre before, how has that relationship evolved over the years?
Original Theatre are real lifesavers. I feel lucky to be a very small part of their continuing journey. Our paths first crossed when Alastair approached me about touring my 2014 social satire (Invincible), which had been produced at the Orange Tree and then in the West End. The company toured it in 2016 around the UK and then again, the following year, after which it enjoyed a month off-Broadway. Due to that production's success, I was commissioned to write Carloline's Kitchen, which again had two tours, with two casts, and also had a run in New York. Then lockdown happened and every theatre professional in the country (and on the planet probably) thought the game was up. Original Theatre continued to make online content and I was asked to write Apollo 13: The Dark Side Of The Moon. They managed to employ playwrights and actors during that time but, more importantly perhaps, helped us feel we were contributing something. Long may they continue!
Finally, how do you find watching your work back on stage? Is it nerve-wracking or do you enjoy it?
Until the beast is up and running, I do find it quite stressful, to be honest, because you just never know until the last minute whether the play is going to fly or to fall. Something may work perfectly well in your head but actually making it real world, with flesh and blood actors who have to make your lines work while including all the silences and the emotions you've imagined...is another matter. If they can't it's usually the fault of the writer and, when it's not working, the nasty bullying voice in your head starts up "You're useless, what are you doing with your life, you should have followed a sensible career like everyone told you" etc. I don't tend to direct my own plays, though I am mostly present during rehearsals, but thankfully I have a good rapport with the director Philip Franks (no rows or fistfights yet) and he is clearly way more of an expert with this genre than I am so I've been happy to take a backseat. We have a great cast and a great team and there is always a shared anxiety when collaborating on any project like this but together, hopefully, we'll pull it off and deliver a theatrical experience that will be both entertaining and maybe just a little bit disturbing. And then, if the production seems valued by the public, it is indeed a very satisfying feeling to know that it all came out of your own troubled mind in the first place!