Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Dark Shadows: The Last Stop written by David Llewellyn and directed by Darren Gross

What's it about: "Every man's a gambling man, don't you think?” Tony Peterson is a lucky man. He's just caught the last train back to Collinsport. It's been a good day – he's renewed an old friendship and been offered a job he cannot refuse. His life is about to change. Only, Tony Peterson's luck has run out. The last train home will turn out to be a very long journey. Will Tony be able to trust the only other survivor? And what decision will Tony make when he's presented with another offer he cannot refuse?

PI: Amazing how these stories are giving me such a vivid depiction of Tony. Each one is completely different in tone but they are all building a compelling picture of the man. It will be interesting to move onto the tales featuring some of the other Collinsport residents but they will sure have to work hard to top this level of characterisation. The Last Post is like an extended therapy session of the most traumatic kind and one that gets us closer to Tony's fears than ever before. How refreshing to catch up with a younger version of Tony, one who still lives in Collinsport and is far less jaded and cynical than the one we are used to. He remains sceptical about the sinister stories he is being told but coming from Collinsport he has a more open mind than others. Patrick Bloom, head of an important law firm, made Tony an offer that he couldn't refuse. Quit Collinsport and join him in his firm in Boston. Bloom is an incorruptible man which is why Lou has come to make his offer to Tony, a much more tempting prospect. Lou is offering him untold riches, success beyond his imagination if he takes up Bloom's offer. When he was younger his father used to add half a mile to their journey home on a Thursday night, taking in Clinton street which was the most affluent area in town. His father hated the people that lived there, that they had more money and lived in nicer houses than they could afford. It instilled in him at an early age to be successful, to aim higher, to be able to come back and be able to buy them a house in Clinton Street once he has made his name. That would be rare altruism in a lawyer. His father died in a boating accident before he could make this dream happen. He's being offered anything his heart desires and what does he seek? Dutch colonial houses and small time Prom Queens. Melodramatic it might be but he doesn't like the idea of selling his soul (Lou calls it broadening his mind). His mother worked herself into an early grave to get him into law school. Tony is trapped in a cell of his own design, his life.

Standout Performance: W Morgan Sheppard is one of those names that crops in fantasy TV every now and again, appearing in everything from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5 to Doctor Who. He's a fine, gravelly actor who brings a great deal of presence to the screen but that is nothing to how much he managed to get under my skin on audio. Playing a menacing storyteller who is introduced as a world weary but pleasant enough man and turning more sinister as the tale progresses, I was trapped in the same nightmare as Tony thanks to Sheppard's snarling, threatening presence.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'You shouldn't just dismiss old wives like that...'
'Isn't there a point where a man ceases to be a lawyer and is simply a man?'
'What imagination? I'm a lawyer not a poet.'
'The juggernaut of history often rolls on the smallest of wheels.'
'Trust me if you had to commute every day you would be grateful for such a threat. Believe me if you could only hear the thoughts some people have while travelling to and from their places of work. Murders that are planned, massacres dreamt of. It would ruin your sleep for a lifetime.'
'There's a demand for evil in the world. Evil's your basic setting. Take away all the window dressing of civilisation and tradition and you're just brute animals with a taste for blood.'

Great Ideas: I've come to expect a Laurel and Hardy style 'Here's another fine mess you've got me into!' from Tony to Cassandra given how she keeps dragging him into dangerous scrapes so it pleased me no end when that line actually appeared in the pre-credits sequence. This time around there is a separate narrative for the framing device, rather than Tony simply recounting a tale to the audience he is entertaining Cassandra whilst they are trapped in a perilous situation. It is a great constant of the universe that whenever you get on a late night train that there is that one crazy guy that is aiming for the seat next to you. The tale of two trains heading into a tunnel at the same time and slamming into one another is absolutely terrifying. There were 237 people on those two trains with 131 coming out of the tunnel alive and 70 bodies discovered in the wreckage. 36 people that got the train where never found. What an intriguing mystery to solve...  Apparently Collinsport makes Salem look like Disneyland...I can't wait until I actually get to visit this much referred to town. The conductor is stolen from the train by screaming wraiths and Lou suggests that he wasn't a conductor but a lawyer fresh out of law school. What would be the penalty for holding back vital information from a court case in which he was the defending counsel. Evidence that proved that the guilt of his client. Imagine the client is a brutal murderer, a man who has killed and has a taste for it. If he gets away with it this time he will undoubtedly do it again. The never-ending train journey is Tony's personal hell, never again seeing daylight, breathing fresh air and seeing those that he loves. He can see pale, lifeless versions of the people he loves, screaming at him. He hopes that he dies of thirst or starvation but where he is food and water mean nothing. An absence of life, love and light. Nothing but time and darkness. Llewellyn paints a vivid picture of existential hell. There's no point in Lou recruiting the slime balls in the city, they are working for him already although they don't know it. The players he has on his team, the more likely he is to win. We are given an illusion of free will but who actually makes their own decisions in life when much of it has been plotted out by rules and regulations and expectations. The Last Stop pauses to ponder on ideas like that, ideas that get you thinking about your own life.

Audio Landscape: Crickets, chanting, train whistle, college kids, conductor, train rattling on the tracks, sinister laughter, whispering voices, laughter.

Result: 'All men have a price!' A fantastic script courtesy of David Llewellyn with line after line of great dialogue, The Last Stop is a terrific treatise on making the right choices in life and avoiding temptation. Go and check out my reviews of The Nowhere Place, Sapphire & Steel: The Passenger and Gallifrey: A Blind Eye - I just adore stories that are set on trains. They come with a built in atmosphere and self perpetuating character tales - everybody on a train is going somewhere for a reason. Ever hear the song The Gambler? Two strangers meet on a night train and one tells a story that touches something inside the other. There is a whiff of that about The Last Stop, a chilling tale that is dramatically presented as stories within stories. If I went through what Tony does on the night from Boston I doubt I would ever step foot on locomotive again. An endless journey, haunted by whispering wraiths that steal conductors out into the night. Pursued and analysed by a sinister old timer who seems to know his entire life story. Tony is trapped in his own personal hell and it turns into a therapy session of the most revealing and disturbing kind. As good as Tony Peterson is as Tony, W Morgan Sheppard is a revelation as Lou, a genuinely frightening piece of work who is likely to give you nightmares after your listen. Would you be bewitched into joining the Devil on his crusade? What would your price be? Terrific stuff, but don't listen to this one with the lights out: 9/10

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