Written by Penelope Faith, Directed by David Darlington and Jim Pierson
In which Blue Whale landlady Jessica Griffin (Wallace), physically recovered from her recent near-death experience, is back behind the bar. And yet, she also seems to be spending an awful lot of time in her beloved garden… And why is a recent arrival in Collinsport – a young man named Nate (Wichert) – showing such an interest in getting to know all he can about Jessica…?
A convivial and garrulous presence within the Blue Whale, Jessica Griffin always seemed destined to be a minor character whose encounters with the supernatural were likely to be minimal at best. Then came the Dark Shadows miniseries Bloodlust, and Jessica’s earthiness provided some much-needed grounding to the plot strands involving her son Ed (before an apparent werewolf attack left her comatose, at any rate!).
Even so, the announcement that Jessica would be the main focus of a post-Bloodlust release, raised more than a few eyebrows. Would she be able to sustain an entire audio drama, especially with the not-wholly-groundbreaking premise of a mysterious stranger trying to worm his way into her life?
Needless to say, these fears are largely unfounded. Newcomer Penelope Faith (part of the “new blood” of writers who have infused this year’s releases so far) delivers a compelling investigation of Jessica’s previously unexplored depths. It should come as little surprise that Marie Wallace takes to her character’s new facets like a proverbial duck to water, instilling these moments with a regretful world-weariness with which older listeners will identify with all too readily. Like every other Dark Shadows character, Jessica’s past contains (ahem) dark shadows, especially where her marriage was concerned; impressively, these don’t turn out to be the obvious secrets that the script seemed to be steering towards with a grim inevitability…
Faith also does a commendable job with Jackie Tate, a somewhat underdeveloped character introduced in Bloodlust. The daughter of Collinsport’s current sheriff, she’s presently helping Jessica keep the Blue Whale in running order (despite not being old enough to drink what’s on tap there). Alexandra Donnachie credibly conveys the bored restlessness of an intelligent teenager chafing to explore the larger world out there, but also one resigned to the knowledge that this isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, if at all. Her suspicions about Nate and his motives come across realistically and in a manner appropriate to someone who grew up around law enforcement.
And then there’s Nate. Ah yes, Nate. Some will doubtless criticise Ryan Wichert’s performance as initially anemic without realising this is a deliberate choice on everyone’s parts. At the risk of veering into spoiler territory, there’s a perfectly valid reason why at first he seems like such a nice, bland non-entity.
I think it’s fair to say that In The Twinkling Of An Eye won’t be every listener’s cup of tea. I, for example, have never been a huge fan of the “mysterious young man takes an unhealthy interest in a female character” trope that Dark Shadows loves to pursue so avidly. But listeners willing to put a bit more effort than usual into following a deliberately off-kilter narrative structure will be rewarded with a satisfying character study.
Verdict: Slow to start, but ultimately rewarding, this seems a fitting release for the dog days of summer… 7/10
John S. Hall