And Then The Dark, by Michael Lesslie, New Wolsey Theatre until March 2

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Atmosphere is everything in a psychological thriller. Fortunately the New Wolsey’s latest premiere And Then The Dark has bags of it – lots of long shadows, spooky trains rattling by and flashes of lightning.

The sound department also has fun supplying an array of creaks, squeaky outside gates and ghostly footsteps which make their way across the ceiling. But, this is a play in which you have to concentrate – really concentrate.

There are plenty of plot twists and a multitude of characters who may or may be not be telling the truth. Some may not even be real. Playwright Michael Lesslie clearly likes to keep the audience wrong-footed, keep them guessing.

He constructs a plot which, at times, resembles a complex tapestry woven out of a huge amount of dialogue. During the first half, in particular, you have to wade through an enormous number of words and not a lot of action. By the interval you feel that you may have to sit an exam on everything you’ve learnt so far before you are allowed to see the denouement.

In a nutshell, the plot revolves around a lonely character Edward. He lives an isolated life in his Georgian house. The curtains are always drawn to keep the outside world at bay. Seven years ago his wife and child died in a fire upstairs. Edward refuses to accept this but when his sister-in-law and her new husband pay a visit, he is forced to confront the past. During the evening there are other uninvited visitors which contribute to his increasing state of confusion.

It’s a clever script and one that keeps you guessing but sadly it doesn’t have the emotional impact of something like Gaslight. This is a play about mechanics – it’s about who, what, when rather than digging deep into people’s personalities and their desires.

Paul Ansdell fares best as the bewildered and slightly paranoid Edward. He is the only character with any real life outside the play – the others are ciphers whose only reason for existence is to advance the plot. Having said that Jon Carver, Liza Sadovy, Ben Jones and Jonny Weldon bring the requisite amount of menace and mystery to their roles but the writing doesn’t supply them with enough backstory for us to really identify with their characters.

And Then The Dark is intriguing, it keeps you on the edge of your seat but it needs less exposition and more heart to fully realise its potential.

Andrew Clarke

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