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INTERVIEW: Murder in the Dark cast

Updated: Mar 26

Murder in the Dark arrives at the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre this week, playing from Tuesday 26th to Saturday 30th March.

Catch up with stars Tom Chambers (Danny) and Susie Blake (Mrs Bateman) to find out more about the show and their thoughts about playing the iconic Glasgow venue.

Tom Chambers <Danny>

Murder in the Dark (UK Tour) cast interviews: Tom Chambers (Danny) Photo credit: Michael Wharley
Tom Chambers (Danny) Photo credit: Michael Wharley

What is Murder in the Dark all about?

It's a ghost story surrounding a modern, dysfunctional family who are travelling back from a funeral and involved in a car crash on New Year's Eve. They're taken in by what seems like a nice old farmer’s wife. She offers them temporary salvage in her farm cottage, then all sorts of weird things start happening. The line is blurred between what's real and what's surreal, and the consequences of their past catching up with them in this eerie place. Things get scary because it's a psychological thriller, but at the same time you might be laughing because it's also unbearably comedic!

Who do you play in the show and what is his role in the story?

I play Danny Sierra, a somewhat washed up pop star. He is facing many demons and insecurities as he fell from the perch and the trappings a fame. He was famous on both sides of the Atlantic some twenty years ago and has since fallen on harder times. His role is to try and make amends with his family but he fails dramatically as his efforts are either squashed or mixed up in what some would describe as paranormal activity. I don't want to give too much away and we’ve been given strict instructions to ask all members of the audience to keep the two big plot twists a secret!

It must be exciting to be originating a role in a brand new play?

It is, yes. It's so thrilling to be part of something brand new. Torben Betts is a master of storytelling, with wit, humour and scare tactics. Theatre these days is really exciting with its ability to deceive an audience through how far it’s ingenuity and technology has evolved, playing with all your imaginative sensors. So it's really exciting to be doing a new play but, like the play itself, it's also really scary for us as we try to find our way through something that's never been done before and the limits to our imagination. Plus, I guess it's like stabbing in the dark, wondering how it’s going to be received. You never quite know until you've got an audience out there.

Have you worked with any of your castmates before?

I haven't, no, but that's always part of the fun of starting a new job, getting to know new people and share our creative resources. I always find it a fascinating discovery witnessing what people are capable of. But of course I'm already very familiar with Susie Blake's work from Victoria Wood: As Seen On TV and all the other great things she's done.

Danny is a singer and of course you're no stranger to musicals. Do you have any numbers in the show?

Yes, actually. Among the family party is Danny's brother Will. They originally started out as a double act, playing in pubs and bars, before Danny took off and deserted him to hit the “big time” with a teen pop band. And so at one point the brothers sing together one of their most popular songs from twenty years ago before they are interrupted by something peculiar!

Why do you think we all love a good murder mystery?

I heard a very clever man on the radio describing how the human brain hasn't evolved in over the last 10,000 years. Our bodies and everything around us have, but our brains can’t separate the difference between fact and fiction when it comes to imagination and storytelling and the effects it has on us. That we live in a semi-constant state of anxiety, (which is normal by the way, so never fear panic! It’s just your internal fire alarm doing its job!) and that we live on the edge of adrenaline while we wait for either something bad to happen or the possibility of being taken by surprise. So I think a good ghost story or murder mystery exercises our senses that we’ve relied on for thousands of years to keep us alive as a species! And together, subconsciously perhaps, we enjoy problem solving or raising our awareness. Plus, the moment someone starts telling ghost stories round the dinner table, it either puts the fear of god into you or your brain starts lighting up like rockets on a dark night! Either way… it’s exciting food for your brain!

Do you scare easily yourself?

Yes I do. I tend not to gravitate towards scary things. Mystery yes, but I'm certainly not someone who prefers horror movies, although I know millions of people do. It's probably because I've got older siblings who would either make me jump or fill my imagination with doubt! Fear is contagious, and so while thrilling, doing this play is a bit like you're experiencing and feeling it for real and I definitely don’t need extra right now!

You came to fame on Holby City but was working in theatre always part of the plan?

I sort of grew up with theatre. During football in morning break at school no one had auditioned for the school play so he made it compulsory that afternoon. I got lead role that eventually lead me to the National Youth Music Theatre and the Guildford School of Acting. I wanted to get into television and film because, well, who wouldn't? But I love doing stage work. The magical thing about theatre is that when you sit there with a whole load of other people it makes you realise you're not alone, we all share similar feelings and responses. People could be watching the dysfunctional family in this play and thinking 'Hey, it's not just me' or they'll look to their family or friends and be thinking 'That's definitely you' in relation to what's happening on stage. Or it might just be that you enjoy the shared experience of a live performance. Live events are great because we are a herd species and it's a really fulfilling and nourishing when you're watching something together.

You made your musical theatre debut in Top Hat. How was the experience?

I did shows for the National Youth Music Theatre and Edinburgh Festivals and when I left drama school I did loads of theatre but it was all profit-share and fringe stuff. But doing Top Hat after Strictly Come Dancing was my first ever professional West End musical and it was both incredible and daunting. I was following in Fred Astaire's footsteps and he's someone who's obviously very hard to replicate so it was a huge challenge. It was also a great honour because I was such a fan of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly back in the day and I suddenly had newfound respect for anyone who works in theatre because you have to be physically and mentally fit, like an athlete. You're doing eight shows a week and it's all about structure and planning and scheduling and keeping yourself 100% ready with a very precise nutrition plan!

What have been your favourite theatre jobs since then?

I did White Christmas in the West End and I played both the Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby roles, which was really really fun. Playing the grumpy dad in Elf The Musical was also a lot of fun. Doing Dial M for Murder on tour was another highlight. Top Hat was certainly the big one, a huge role and the show that really started my theatre career. I've been lucky because I've really enjoyed everything I've done since. And now with Murder in the Dark I pray it continues!

What are you most looking forward to about touring the country with Murder in the Dark?

I'm really looking forward to gauging people's reaction to a brand new thriller. A lot of thrillers, like The Woman in Black or The Mousetrap, go back a long way whereas this is really modern and it's got a kind of Stranger Things feel to it. I'm really interested to see how the audiences react in different parts of the country. There's so much in this play - whether it's comedy, empathy, relatable family dynamics, scares and ghostly goings on that I’m sure some county’s will respond very differently to others. On top of that it's a real joy to be able to go around the country and visit the history of each place, old or young. You find interesting history everywhere in the UK.

The tour calls at the Pavilion Theatre Glasgow. Does it have any significance for you?

I love Glasgow. I've been up there with Private Lives and Dial M for Murder and it's such a great place. There's a brilliant Italian restaurant called Lanterna in Hope Street and I'm looking forward to popping along between shows.

Murder in the Dark (UK Tour) cast interviews: Susie Blake (Mrs Bateman) Photo credit: Michael Wharley
Susie Blake (Mrs Bateman) Photo credit: Michael Wharley

Susie Blake <Mrs. Bateman>

What is Murder in the Dark all about?

It's about a group of people who get stranded on a very windy, snowy night in the middle of nowhere after they have a car crash. They head to the nearest building, which is a farmhouse, and I'm the farmer who lives there and takes them in. Their car isn't working and the weather's so bad that they can't get away. Then scary things start to happen, but that's all I'm going to reveal about the plot.

How would you describe Mrs. Bateman and her role in the story?

Mrs. Bateman lives alone on the farm. She's very in-control and efficient, and she's quite welcoming to her visitors. She has someone working for her, Margaret, who you never meet and she invites the family to come into a cottage that she's got attached to her farmhouse. [Laughs] Poor Mrs. Bateman. She tries to look after them, feed them and bring them bedding and things like that but there are a few things that start to go bump in the night.

It must be exciting to be originating a role in a brand new play?

It's a lovely thing to be doing. The last horror thing that I did, Snake in the Grass, I enjoyed very much too and that was also a new thing. This is only the second thriller I've ever done and it's interesting because if you do comedy you don't find it funny because you're telling the story and playing the situation. And it's the same if you do something scary, so thank goodness I'm not too frightened by it. That said, I'm in two minds about my grandchildren coming to see it but I know that my son is desperate to see it because he loves it when I'm playing slightly dubious characters. I've played a few nasty characters but with Mrs. Bateman it is more a case of her being ambiguous. You're not quite sure what she's thinking or what's going on outside the cottage.

Have you worked with any of your castmates or creatives before?

Not the cast, no. But I have worked with director Philip Franks before and you just say 'yes' to anything he asks you to do because he's the best director on the planet. He's just wonderful. He listens, he's kind and he makes us laugh. He sets up a very good atmosphere in a rehearsal room where you feel you can take as many risks as you need, you'll try anything for him and he'll encourage you to try things too. He's very generous and supportive, and he really likes actors.

Why do you think we all love a good murder mystery?

Interestingly, Philip gave us a talk about horror, where it all originated and the kind of writers that were writing it, going right back to olden times. Horror and people enjoying watching horror is always preceded by or created around awful things happening in the world, like a war or disease. It

plays into people's need to escape from reality and I can sort of see that happening now. At the moment audiences want to be taken away from what's going on in their lives. It's tough for everybody nowadays. If you're not worried about where the next wage packet is coming from you're certainly worried about the world and the way that we're treating everything and everyone. To be allowed to just put that on the back-burner, with some entertainment and a few shocks, is a very nice way to spend an evening.

Do you scare easily yourself?

Not anymore. I'm quite old now; I'm 73, so perhaps I'm not as alert to danger as I once was. In real life, of course, we've all got mobile phones, which makes us a lot safer, I think. But then you hear a lot of stories that are to do with people being able to steal identities and use your mobile phones in a horribly negative way. That scares me, the idea that somebody can send you messages on your phone that you hook into and then they've got your bank account details and that sort of thing. That's why I don't do phone banking and I'm quite cautious. When you get to a certain age you have to be. [Laughs] Of course then you get a bad reputation for being grumpy.

You came to fame as the continuity announcer in Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV. Do people still quote those legendary lines to you and how did you manage to keep a straight face when you originally filmed them?

Yes of course they do, especially the one that goes: 'We'd like to apologise to viewers in the North. It must be awful for them.' As for keeping a straight face, you just get into character. I think it's much more difficult if you're a stand-up comedian. I so admire stand-ups because they have to tell jokes and they're being themselves.

What have been your subsequent career highlights on both screen and stage?

Golly, that's a hard question because I've had such a lovely time. I love working with comedians for a start because they listen; they have to, it's their trade. I started way, way back with Russ Abbot, which is in fact what Victoria Wood first saw me do. I did Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em on stage with Joe Pasquale and that was heaven. I've just played Miss Marple in a stage version of The Mirror Crack'd which was wonderful as well and I do very much enjoy doing Mrs. Brown's Boys playing the baddie. Going back a bit, I did a play with Sheila Hancock called Prin in 1989. I liked it so much, I was suggesting to Philip Franks that we might try and do that again.

What are you most looking forward to about touring the country with Murder in the Dark?

I think my character will surprise people who know me from other things. It's a new departure to play somebody that's ambiguous as she is - somebody that you can't quite trust. And seeing the country is always wonderful. I love touring and it's great fun going to see old buildings, stately homes, gardens, all of that.

The tour calls at the Pavilion Theatre Glasgow. Does it have any significance for you?

Glasgow is where we film Mrs. Brown's Boys and I've got good friends who live there who I'll definitely be seeing. Glasgow also has the best food on the planet. It is full of the most wonderful restaurants, the theatre is well-attended and Glaswegians are heavenly.


Murder in the Dark plays Glasgow Pavilion Theatre from Tuesday 26th to Saturday 30th March.


Murder in the Dark (UK Tour) cast interviews: Tom Chambers (Danny) and Susie Blake (Mrs Bateman)

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