10 Minutes with...Murder in the Dark's Tom Chambers
With Murder in the Dark opening next week, we caught up with Holby City/Strictly Come Dancing star Tom Chambers to talk about the show, his career and his role as Danny Sierra.
What is Murder in the Dark all about?
It's a ghost story surrounding a modern, dysfunctional family who are travelling back from a funeral and involved in a car crash on New Year's Eve. They're taken in by what seems like a nice old farmer’s wife. She offers them temporary salvage in her farm cottage, then all sorts of weird things start happening. The line is blurred between what's real and what's surreal, and the consequences of their past catching up with them in this eerie place. Things get scary because it's a psychological thriller, but at the same time you might be laughing because it's also unbearably comedic!
Who do you play in the show and what is his role in the story?
I play Danny Sierra, a somewhat washed up pop star. He is facing many demons and insecurities as he fell from the perch and the trappings a fame. He was famous on both sides of the Atlantic some twenty years ago and has since fallen on harder times. His role is to try and make amends with his family but he fails dramatically as his efforts are either squashed or mixed up in what some would describe as paranormal activity. I don't want to give too much away and we’ve been given strict instructions to ask all members of the audience to keep the two big plot twists a secret!
It must be exciting to be originating a role in a brand new play?
It is, yes. It's so thrilling to be part of something brand new. Torben Betts is a master of storytelling, with wit, humour and scare tactics. Theatre these days is really exciting with its ability to deceive an audience through how far it’s ingenuity and technology has evolved, playing with all your imaginative sensors. So it's really exciting to be doing a new play but, like the play itself, it's also really scary for us as we try to find our way through something that's never been done before and the limits to our imagination. Plus, I guess it's like stabbing in the dark, wondering how it’s going to be received. You never quite know until you've got an audience out there.
Have you worked with any of your castmates before?
I haven't, no, but that's always part of the fun of starting a new job, getting to know new people and share our creative resources. I always find it a fascinating discovery witnessing what people are capable of. But of course I'm already very familiar with Susie Blake's work from Victoria Wood: As Seen On TV and all the other great things she's done.
Danny is a singer and of course, you're no stranger to musicals. Do you have any numbers in the show?
Yes, actually. Among the family party is Danny's brother Will. They originally started out as a double act, playing in pubs and bars, before Danny took off and deserted him to hit the “big time” with a teen pop band. And so at one point the brothers sing together one of their most popular songs from twenty years ago before they are interrupted by something peculiar!
Why do you think we all love a good murder mystery?
I heard a very clever man on the radio describing how the human brain hasn't evolved in over the last 10,000 years. Our bodies and everything around us have, but our brains can’t separate the difference between fact and fiction when it comes to imagination and storytelling and the effects it has on us. That we live in a semi-constant state of anxiety, (which is normal by the way, so never fear panic! It’s just your internal fire alarm doing its job!) and that we live on the edge of adrenaline while we wait for either something bad to happen or the possibility of being taken by surprise. So I think a good ghost story or murder mystery exercises our senses that we’ve relied on for thousands of years to keep us alive as a species! And together, subconsciously perhaps, we enjoy problem solving or raising our awareness. Plus, the moment someone starts telling ghost stories round the dinner table, it either puts the fear of god into you or your brain starts lighting up like rockets on a dark night! Either way… it’s exciting food for your brain!
Do you scare easily yourself?
Yes I do. I tend not to gravitate towards scary things. Mystery yes, but I'm certainly not someone who prefers horror movies, although I know millions of people do. It's probably because I've got older siblings who would either make me jump or fill my imagination with doubt! Fear is contagious, and so while thrilling, doing this play is a bit like you're experiencing and feeling it for real and I definitely don’t need extra right now!
You came to fame on Holby City but was working in theatre always part of the plan?
I sort of grew up with theatre. During football in morning break at school no one had auditioned for the school play so he made it compulsory that afternoon. I got lead role that eventually lead me to the National Youth Music Theatre and the Guildford School of Acting. I wanted to get into television and film because, well, who wouldn't? But I love doing stage work. The magical thing about theatre is that when you sit there with a whole load of other people it makes you realise you're not alone, we all share similar feelings and responses. People could be watching the dysfunctional family in this play and thinking 'Hey, it's not just me' or they'll look to their family or friends and be thinking 'That's definitely you' in relation to what's happening on stage. Or it might just be that you enjoy the shared experience of a live performance. Live events are great because we are a herd species and it's a really fulfilling and nourishing when you're watching something together.
You made your musical theatre debut in Top Hat. How was the experience?
I did shows for the National Youth Music Theatre and Edinburgh Festivals and when I left drama school I did loads of theatre but it was all profit-share and fringe stuff. But doing Top Hat after Strictly Come Dancing was my first ever professional West End musical and it was both incredible and daunting. I was following in Fred Astaire's footsteps and he's someone who's obviously very hard to replicate so it was a huge challenge. It was also a great honour because I was such a fan of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly back in the day and I suddenly had newfound respect for anyone who works in theatre because you have to be physically and mentally fit, like an athlete. You're doing eight shows a week and it's all about structure and planning and scheduling and keeping yourself 100% ready with a very precise nutrition plan!
What have been your favourite theatre jobs since then?
I did White Christmas in the West End and I played both the Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby roles, which was really really fun. Playing the grumpy dad in Elf The Musical was also a lot of fun. Doing Dial M for Murder on tour was another highlight. Top Hat was certainly the big one, a huge role and the show that really started my theatre career. I've been lucky because I've really enjoyed everything I've done since. And now with Murder in the Dark I pray it continues!
What are you most looking forward to about touring the country with Murder in the Dark?
I'm really looking forward to gauging people's reaction to a brand new thriller. A lot of thrillers, like The Woman in Black or The Mousetrap, go back a long way whereas this is really modern and it's got a kind of Stranger Things feel to it. I'm really interested to see how the audiences react in different parts of the country. There's so much in this play - whether it's comedy, empathy, relatable family dynamics, scares and ghostly goings on that I’m sure some county’s will respond very differently to others. On top of that it's a real joy to be able to go around the country and visit the history of each place, old or young. You find interesting history everywhere in the UK.
For more information about the show and book tickets, visit the show page here.