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Nightfright (tour – Stevenage)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Horror thrillers are a tricky genre. They can cause laughter, sometimes at inappropriate moments. That can be part of an audience’s natural reaction, almost a defence mechanism. It can also denote clumsiness on the part of the writer, the director, or both.

Take Nightfright by Roger S Moss, originally staged in Lincoln 18 years ago. It has an interesting premise – a young couple renting their first home together just before their marriage and Caribbean honeymoon. She loves the idea of a trendy chapel conversion at a realistic rent; he finds the open-plan layout lacking in privacy and the neighbouring graveyard unsettling. True, the estate agent’s representative is a bit doddery and the jobbing gardener who comes as part of the deal is obtrusive, but that’s rural life for you.

As soon as they arrive back (24 hours early) from honeymoon, odd things start happening. The estate agent himself has odd priorities and the sexy neighbour has distinctly predatory instincts. Then there are doors which open when they should be closed, other doors which are locked or which stick, variable electricity and an even dodgier telephone connection. Love’s young dream, even a modern version of it, starts turning into a nightmare.

The first act of three scenes works well enough and director Chris Moreno keeps the action going on the different levels furnished by the split-level set of David North and Alan Miller Bunford. It begins to fall apart by the middle of the second act and the last scene certainly needs trimming; too many things happen too quickly yet there’s time for speeches whose gist could surely have been conveyed earlier in the action.

As the young wife, Jenny Gilman, Helen George gives a good performance of a young woman needing to learn a new role in life. Paul Opacic plays her husband, Frank, a slightly bossy type who wants to make his mark in this new relationship. Enmeshing them in a nefarious plot are Ben Roberts as Mr Watson, estate agent extraordinaire, Henry Cormas as spade-wielding Mr Harvey and Louise Peters as Miss Peterson, the keeper of the keys. Ands of course the luscious neighbour Jacquie, downing brandy and champagne and proffering all sorts of comfort. Dianne Nicks has great fun with her initial intrusions but falters as the nightmare reaches its inconclusive conclusion.

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