After a sell out run in the studio in March this year, Ensemble 52 return to Hull Truck Theatre with Dark Winter, this time for a week on the main stage. It’s a gritty and atmospheric adaptation of David Mark’s best selling Hull based crime novel of the same name, adapted for the stage by Richard Vergette and Nick Lane.
And gritty and atmospheric it is. Under Andrew Pearson’s direction, expect the stage to be almost permanently shrouded in haze with striking side lighting casting ominous shadows throughout. Beautiful location specific footage is projected behind the cast as the story plays out, and the whole production leans toward the cinematic.
But despite the filmic tendencies, it is also a production that shows its workings as a piece of theatre. Once on, the multi-rolling cast never leave the stage, changing costume pieces at the side between scenes with a subtlety that is rarely distracting. Phone conversations are delivered live by the cast using microphones, a decision that helps breathe life into the many calls that take place as the plot unfolds. The staging helps build a sense of urgency in a story that flits frantically between many locations and when it works, it’s satisfyingly slick. It’s a nice set up that makes it hard to not be sucked into this Hull-centric whodunit.
Saying that, it’s difficult to ignore that the script flaunts every cop drama trope under the sun. It feels like every character is one step away from demanding that they ‘have someone’s badge for that’. Sarah Nauhgton in particular dishes out some real clichés as Detective Superintendent M’am, sorry, Trish Pharoah. Peter McMillan gives us his best David Tennant in Broadchurch with his depiction of straight-laced good cop Aector McAvoy. But to their credit, the entire cast are completely committed and play the story straight, ensuring that the cringe inducing one liners and crazy plot twists fall on the right side of ridiculous. It even pokes fun at the paint by numbers tropes of TV’s Midsummer Murders, which might well be a self-aware stroke of genius.
If you’re a fan of televised detective programmes and/or crime novels, Dark Winter does a great job of borrowing elements from both mediums and then combining them with some solid stagecraft and accomplished performances. If you let yourself be absorbed into the more outlandish parts of the rapid-fire plot, there’s plenty to enjoy here. It also certainly makes a case for finding time to read David Mark’s novels and discover what happens next to Aector and the citizens of Hull.