Between the first and second seasons of their full-cast audio dramas based on the 1966-1971 American horror soap opera Dark Shadows, Big Finish Productions is releasing several “dramatic readings.” These audios are something of a cross between straightforward audiobooks and two-actor audio dramas, but however you classify them the format works well enough, if Stephen Mark Rainey’s The Path of Fate is anything to go by. This audio, starring original cast members Lara Parker as Angelique and David Selby as Quentin Collins, mixes the slightly melodramatic horror feel of Dark Shadows with dark Lovecraftian overtones to produce an enjoyable, if rather straightforward, story.
Parker is the primary performer in The Path of Fate, and her character Angelique is its dramatic centre. A once-evil witch pursuing redemption and hoping to avoid punishment by her dark master, she returns to Collinwood Mansion at the behest of former werewolf Quentin Collins. These characters and this location have a complicated history within the 1200+ plus episodes of Dark Shadows, but the audio recaps enough of the basics that this relative newbie was able to get by. Quentin needs help because he has a discovered a mysterious dimension-spanning staircase at Collinwood, one that seems to lead to his future – a future in which he has turned to evil. Can Angelique save him without using her magic and bringing doom upon herself?
As this potted plot might suggest, The Path of Fate offers the same entertaining mishmash of genre features that characterised the television series. Added to the mix here is a touch of the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft, not only in the presence of a famous creature, but in the motifs and themes that emerge as the audio progresses. This review won’t say more, because these elements add some surprises to what had seemed like an entirely predictable narrative and dramatic arc. The denouement still isn’t terribly novel, but it’s carried off with enough style that it suffices.
Part of that style is the performances of Parker and Selby. What they offer here is not exactly great acting, but great acting isn’t exactly what Dark Shadows calls for either. They manage anger, fear, and passion that fit the tone of the story. Parker’s pleasant speaking voice is appropriate for the narrated sections of the audio, and she generally strikes a good balance between reading and performing. Once in a while she pronounces a word strangely or reads a line oddly, but mostly the reading is polished and involving. Selby has less to do, but performs capably throughout, delivering dialogue with a grizzled edge that suggests his character’s long history and lupine side.
In the long run, one’s judgment of The Path of Fate will likely depend on one’s feeling about Dark Shadows itself. Like any cult classic, the programme is an acquired taste, and if a listener doesn’t feel up to dialogue like “I saw that the bright pulsating thing was a human heart, enveloped by liquid fire, beating as if it had forgotten to die”, it’s probably best to seek other entertainment. For those of us who love a bit of Gothic quasi-melodrama on audio, though, The Path of Fate is a strong selection.
The Path of Fate (by Stephen Mark Rainey; starring Lara Parker, David Selby) was released by Big Finish Productions in December 2008.