Arts: Theatre: The importance of being truly evil


FACED WITH a double bill of ghostly chillers called Darkness Falls, I'm the sort of person who anticipates an evening that would be better entitled "Boredom Descends". I'm haunted enough already, thank you very much. So Jonathan Holloway's piquant pairing of two creepy one-acters at the Palace Theatre, Watford, came as a very pleasant surprise.

Proceedings kick off with WW Jacobs' classic 1902 short story, The Monkey's Paw, updated to the 1940s among those bereaved by the Second World War. After the interval is The Dark, an original play by Holloway with a contemporary setting, though it shares a remote Northumbrian locale with the Jacobs, and a preoccupation with the rash deals we make with the supernatural.

At the start of the former, you find yourself irresistibly reminded of the spoof murder mystery in Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound. The howling wind, the heavy emphasis on the lonely inaccessibility of this working-class cottage, the deathless dialogue ("He fought his way across Burma, I think he can manage to get to us," declares Father of their tardy ex-soldier guest), and the seemingly brainless wife bustling about her domestic chores - all these seem to have roughly the same relation to real terror as "Acorn Antiques" does to "The Spoils of Poynton".

But it's a calculated gamble on the part of director Giles Croft that pays off handsomely, making the subsequent stealthy escalation into authentic horror all the more powerful. From plucky cipher, Suzy, Aitchison's wife, suddenly deepens into a desperately distraught mother and the play, with its eponymous charm twisting like a snake in the hands of those who seek to profit by it, becomes a sinister study in the treacherous ambiguity of our deepest wishes. Those final blows on the door resonate in the nerves for a long time afterwards.

A dramatisation of The Monkey's Paw is being announced on the radio at the start of The Dark, a droll touch that has the effect of underlining the inferiority of the latter as ghostly drama. Part of the trouble is that, whereas the shockingness of the Jacobs is properly dramatised and mounts till the final, last-second twist, The Dark theorises about its themes and renders them diffuse. It is set on New Year's Eve at the annual party where Simian Black (Philip Bretherton), a silkenly pervy ex-Cambridge don, entertains favoured former pupils. Short of swanning around in a sandwich board that declares: "Hi, I'm Mephistopheles, fly me!", it is hard to see how either play or performance could signal the function of this character louder or earlier.

The cat-and-mouse conversation at this sticky do crackles with baleful inventiveness - airing ideas like that of a Faust who is prepared to commit suicide rather than allow the devil to get his cloven mitts on a girlfriend. And if these fancies aren't satisfyingly subsumed into a story with drive, they certainly thicken the atmosphere of donnish diabolic depravity. A compelling evening that is also a puzzle. Can this be the same Jonathan Holloway who once staged a version of Macbeth that cut out all mention of the witches?

Paul Taylor

To 20 Feb, 01923 225671

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?