Michael Lesslie on writing And Then The DarkDate: 4 February 2013
And Then The Dark came about when Nick Frankfort and Tobias Round at CMP Ltd commissioned me to write a contemporary scary thriller that abided by the traditional rules of the genre – a single set, a real-time narrative, a small number of characters and a breakneck plot. We all agreed that these plays engage audiences in a truly theatrical way by capitalising on their presence in the room, establishing a claustrophobia from which the only escape is the final curtain.
Oddly, however, there seems to be a real dearth of them in contemporary theatre – they are perhaps looked down on as "entertainments". I started researching the genre and became all the more excited to see that its most successful examples – such as Gaslight or Rope – aren’t just disposable nights out but proper plays that distill the anxieties of the time of the time in which they’re written and have flawed human characters at their heart – they’re only scary, after all, if the audience can empathise with the people in jeopardy.
What’s more, the question central to so many of these plays – do ghosts exist? – seems particularly pertinent to our sceptical generation, in which a suffusion of information can preclude a faith in a world beyond our own. If we can rationalise the universe around us, they ask, why do we need to believe in a higher power? And if there is no higher power, why must we try to be "good"?
So, armed with these themes, I set about writing a tense, honest play that was all the more exciting because it wrestled with big questions. Most importantly, however, it had to be fun! When Peter Rowe at the New Wolsey Theatre read the first draft, he agreed that we had an opportunity to entertain audiences without pulling our punches and we worked on the play to get it where it is today.
I expect the script has changed over the course of rehearsals, as the actors have taken ownership of their characters and found the building rhythms of the story, so I’m extremely excited to see what they’ve produced. I hope audiences are too!
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