REVIEW: Dark and disturbing mystery chills in unexpected ways

Andrew Paul and Corrinne Wicks
Andrew Paul and Corrinne Wicks

The Devil at Midnight by Brian Clemens, The Capitol, Horsham, Friday, May 30

A good mystery is full of surprises and Talking Scarlet’s latest show certainly contains enough to keep viewers satisfied.

The Devil at Midnight, a play that should trick even the most perceptive audience members, is an intelligent, though sometimes heavy handed thriller by Brian Clemens.

Taking place in the flat of psychoanalyst Liz Burns (Corrinne Wicks), the play introduces Nicki (Charlotte Chinn), a young woman plagued by horrific nightmares that begin at midnight every night. She describes being dragged out of her bed by the Devil and taken to a strange building. Using hypnosis, Liz manages to tease out of Nicki what seems to be a story of abuse at the hands of her social workers. And to make matters worse, she starts to believe that her husband Jack (Andrew Paul) was involved. However, it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems, as Nicki starts displaying some suspicious behaviour.

In the opening scenes, it seems strange that this thriller is described as ‘topical’. Nicki’s descriptions of ‘The Devil’ and Jack’s quick reference to ‘Satanic Abuse’ hark back to the hysterical tone of allegations made in the ’80s and ’90s. However, it becomes clear that this is simply a background to Nicki’s tale and the play’s themes feel increasingly modern as the clever narrative twists towards its surprising conclusion.

The acting is up to a high standard all round, with Corrinne Wicks and Andrew Paul delivering strong performances as the married couple. They convey a convincing sense of physical and emotional comfort around each other, a kind of acceptance of each other’s quirks that only seems to happen in long-term relationships. This is broken apart by Nicki’s tale and Andrew Paul injects his character with enough potentially dark flourishes to make the audience question his innocence.

Corrinne Wicks also takes her character on a realistic journey from slight unease to panicky, nauseated certainty regarding her husband’s alleged guilt. Charlotte Chinn, meanwhile, puts in the best performance of the evening. Sometimes she’s touchy and anxious, at other times (during regression therapy, for example) she speaks and acts like a terrified seven-year-old. Her transformation into something frightening works well too, undermined only by her slightly OTT outfit.

Chris Sheridan also deserves his round of applause for bringing a palpable sense of menace to the production with a role that involves almost no dialogue.

Despite some overly dramatic music, The Devil at Midnight is a largely subtle thriller with a very thought-provoking message. It doesn’t take an obvious path and chills in unexpected ways, finding darkness, not just in its depiction of childhood trauma, but in the questions it raises about the state’s intrusion into family life.

If you like scary shows, this is definitely worth checking out. Just be prepared for a heated discussion afterwards.