Last Updated on 28th September 2023
We took a moment to chat with Susie Blake who is currently touring with Tom Chambers and Laura White in Torben Betts’ play Murder In The Dark.
What is Murder in the Dark all about?
It’s about a group of people who get stranded on a very windy, snowy night in the middle of nowhere after they have a car crash. They head to the nearest building, which is a farmhouse, and I’m the farmer who lives there and takes them in. Their car isn’t working and the weather’s so bad that they can’t get away. Then scary things start to happen, but that’s all I’m going to reveal about the plot.
How would you describe Mrs. Bateman and her role in the story?
Mrs. Bateman lives alone on the farm. She’s very in-control and efficient, and she’s quite welcoming to her visitors. She has someone working for her, Margaret, who you never meet and she invites the family to come into a cottage that she’s got attached to her farmhouse. [Laughs] Poor Mrs. Bateman. She tries to look after them, feed them and bring them bedding and things like that but there are a few things that start to go bump in the night.
It must be exciting to be originating a role in a brand new play?
It’s a lovely thing to be doing. The last horror thing that I did, Snake in the Grass, I enjoyed very much too and that was also a new thing. This is only the second thriller I’ve ever done and it’s interesting because if you do comedy you don’t find it funny because you’re telling the story and playing the situation. And it’s the same if you do something scary, so thank goodness I’m not too frightened by it. That said, I’m in two minds about my grandchildren coming to see it but I know that my son is desperate to see it because he loves it when I’m playing slightly dubious characters. I’ve played a few nasty characters but with Mrs. Bateman it is more a case of her being ambiguous. You’re not quite sure what she’s thinking or what’s going on outside the cottage.
Have you worked with any of your castmates or creatives before?
Not the cast, no. But I have worked with director Philip Franks before and you just say ‘yes’ to anything he asks you to do because he’s the best director on the planet. He’s just wonderful. He listens, he’s kind and he makes us laugh. He sets up a very good atmosphere in a rehearsal room where you feel you can take as many risks as you need, you’ll try anything for him and he’ll encourage you to try things too. He’s very generous and supportive, and he really likes actors.
Why do you think we all love a good murder mystery?
Interestingly, Philip gave us a talk about horror, where it all originated and the kind of writers that were writing it, going right back to olden times. Horror and people enjoying watching horror is always preceded by or created around awful things happening in the world, like a war or disease. It plays into people’s need to escape from reality and I can sort of see that happening now. At the moment audiences want to be taken away from what’s going on in their lives. It’s tough for everybody nowadays. If you’re not worried about where the next wage packet is coming from you’re certainly worried about the world and the way that we’re treating everything and everyone. To be allowed to just put that on the back-burner, with some entertainment and a few shocks, is a very nice way to spend an evening.
Do you scare easily yourself?
Not anymore. I’m quite old now; I’m 73, so perhaps I’m not as alert to danger as I once was. In real life, of course, we’ve all got mobile phones, which makes us a lot safer, I think. But then you hear a lot of stories that are to do with people being able to steal identities and use your mobile phones in a horribly negative way. That scares me, the idea that somebody can send you messages on your phone that you hook into and then they’ve got your bank account details and that sort of thing. That’s why I don’t do phone banking and I’m quite cautious. When you get to a certain age you have to be. [Laughs] Of course then you get a bad reputation for being grumpy.
You came to fame as the continuity announcer in Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV. Do people still quote those legendary lines to you and how did you manage to keep a straight face when you originally filmed them?
Yes of course they do, especially the one that goes: ‘We’d like to apologise to viewers in the North. It must be awful for them.’ As for keeping a straight face, you just get into character. I think it’s much more difficult if you’re a stand-up comedian. I so admire stand-ups because they have to tell jokes and they’re being themselves.
What have been your subsequent career highlights on both screen and stage?
Golly, that’s a hard question because I’ve had such a lovely time. I love working with comedians for a start because they listen; they have to, it’s their trade. I started way, way back with Russ Abbot, which is in fact what Victoria Wood first saw me do. I did Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em on stage with Joe Pasquale and that was heaven. I’ve just played Miss Marple in a stage version of The Mirror Crack’d which was wonderful as well and I do very much enjoy doing Mrs. Brown’s Boys playing the baddie. Going back a bit, I did a play with Sheila Hancock called Prin in 1989. I liked it so much, I was suggesting to Philip Franks that we might try and do that again.
What are you most looking forward to about touring the country with Murder in the Dark?
I think my character will surprise people who know me from other things. It’s a new departure to play somebody that’s ambiguous as she is – somebody that you can’t quite trust. And seeing the country is always wonderful. I love touring and it’s great fun going to see old buildings, stately homes, gardens, all of that.