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Guest Blog: Writer and Director Paul Morrissey On WHEN DARKNESS FALLS

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Tackling ghost stories and the scarily real history of the island of Guernsey

Guest Blog: Writer and Director Paul Morrissey On WHEN DARKNESS FALLS
Alex Phelps and Will Barton
in When Darkness Falls

The Channel Islands are an archipelago in the English Channel, just off the French coast of Normandy. They include two Crown dependencies: the Bailiwick of Jersey, which is the largest of the islands; and the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the second largest.

Guernsey or "Corner Island", as it literally translates, is a beautiful, tranquil rock cut off from the mainland by some 336km. At just nine miles by five, it is quite literally a drop in the ocean. But for such a small island, it has an incredible history. Growing up there, as I did, I was surrounded by stories of old abandoned ghost houses, witches and witch hunts, pirates and privateers, and ghoulish canines roaming the cobbled streets.

James Milton and I began writing When Darkness Falls in 2015. At that time, we had no intention of it being a fully formed play. Instead, we had decided to hire a theatre for a night to entertain, and perhaps scare, an audience with a series of ghost stories from the island's rich catalogue of folklore and superstitions.

However, during our research, we discovered some truly astounding things. So much more than just silly superstitions passed down through the generations. What we unearthed weren't just spooky stories to regale around the fireside on Christmas Eve. These stories were dark. Etched into the fabric of the island and its inhabitants.

Indelible marks not just on the history of the island but also on its landscape. Martello Towers protruding from the ground. German bunkers and fortifications strewn across the island. Plaques on steps reminding us that the most ferocious witch-hunting on any crown territory occurred on Guernsey in the 16th and 17th century.

Guest Blog: Writer and Director Paul Morrissey On WHEN DARKNESS FALLS
Alex Phelps in When Darkness Falls

We visited the German Underground Hospital. An institution created to provide healthcare, known more for pain and death. The temperature drops 10 degrees within moments of entering the echoing entrance tunnel. Now a tourist 'attraction', it's difficult to reconcile that this is no fabrication. This isn't a theme park. This is the real thing. Hewn in human suffering.

The more we researched these incredible stories, the more questions seemed to arise. How could these things have happened on British soil? Was there any real possibility that the 'haunted house' was, in fact, haunted?

And then there were the more esoteric questions, like what are ghosts, really? What role, if any, do they play in the human psyche? Are they really apparitions of the dead? Spirits trapped between worlds, like the Dybbuk in Jewish Mythology: a dark lost soul, suspended in some intermediate state between life and death? Are they grief? Or guilt? Half-finished business or unprocessed pain? Or are they simply just memories? Half-buried. Faintly conceived.

We started thinking: maybe we're all haunted. By the past. By regret. By shame. By things that have embedded themselves deep within us. A kind of trauma, that we relive as the events unfold, again and again before us.

When Darkness Falls is a ghost story. But it's also a story about stories. The stories we've heard and the stories we tell. Sometimes to each other. Sometimes to ourselves.

We have managed to secure some incredible talent for this both on- and offstage. Not least lighting designer Bethany Gupwell, sound Ddsigner Daniel Higgott, award-winning stage designer Justin Williams, and illusion designer John Bulleid.

Guest Blog: Writer and Director Paul Morrissey On WHEN DARKNESS FALLS
Will Barton in When Darkness Falls

Taking on the two mammoth roles in the play are Will Barton and Alex Phelps. I had the pleasure of seeing Will as Boris Johnson in The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson at Park Theatre last year. What amazed me was that this wasn't just an uncanny impression of Boris Johnson, it was a sophisticated and detailed character performance. Alex took part in our original read-through of the play and is, in my opinion, one of the best young actors out there today.

As well as co-writing the play, I'm thrilled to be directing this production too. Especially at Park Theatre, which is without doubt one of the most exciting venues in London. I'm told, unlike many theatres, it does not have its own incumbent ghost. Or maybe we just haven't seen it yet...

If you suffer from phasmophobia (a fear of ghosts!) you might want to stay away. But if, like me, you quite like the idea of being scared out of your wits, then this might just be for you. But be warned: I wouldn't come on your own!

When Darkness Falls is at the Park Theatre 18 August-4 September. Find out more and book tickets here

Photo credit: Michael Wharley


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