Jack Ellis (Mike) and Karina Jones (Susy) in Wait Until Dark. Photo: Manuel Harlen.
I wouldn’t exactly call Wait Until Dark an oasis of calm in a musical-theatre-filled world that continuously sweeps the country year in, year out, but the much-anticipated revival of Frederick Knott’s fifty-year-old thriller does bring a certain fresh appeal to the increasingly chilly week-nights that now threaten to lay before us. And who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned thriller! In fact with Ira Levin’s Deathtrap also on the horizon, we are positively being spoiled.
With only a week under its belt, Original Theatre’s national press night at Richmond Theatre yesterday may have benefitted from being put back a fortnight. A little tweaking, before unleashing it to the critics, would probably have been a good idea as initial reviews have been somewhat mixed.
Written by Knott in 1966, Wait Until Dark was of course adapted for the big screen the following year when Audrey Hepburn earned herself an Oscar nomination for her role of Susy, a young woman recently made blind in a traffic accident. It seems astounding that it’s taken half a century for a registered blind actress to take on the role, but that’s what Karina Jones has done – and all credit to her. With Susy living in a 1960s basement flat in Notting Hill, it’s very easy to take for granted just how easily Jones continuously tackles the flat’s long and steep staircase – as well as its heavily populated furnishings. But Jones offers the ultimate authenticity in how someone in her position would act, react and behave.
The plot centres around three criminals who are searching to retrieve a drug-filled toy doll which Susy’s husband, Sam, innocently (but rather stupidly, Mr Knott) agreed to bring back from Holland as a favour. After previously turning the couple’s flat upside down – to no avail – the desperate trio of con-men attempt to get Sam out of the house and ‘hustle’ the doll’s whereabouts from the remaining blind inhabitant. Can our heroine outsmart her attackers? With the help of a slightly petulant schoolgirl from upstairs (played by Shannon Rewcroft), and the three criminals ready to turn on one another like Reservoir Dogs, I would say it’s quite possible.
As the three nasty pieces of work, Jack Ellis, Greame Brookes and Tim Treloar do a very nice job in Knott’s slightly flawed and convoluted story, with the latter proving to be menacing to the point of psychotic. However, to make this production as good as it truly deserves, more suspense – both physical and psychological – needs to be trucked in.
The biggest challenge in achieving this is to perfect the climactic ‘blackout’ which the audience is pre-warned about prior to curtain-up. It appears that today’s Health & Safety regulations must simply forbid the cutting of every single shaft of light from the auditorium, so despite those annoying green ‘EXIT’ signs being temporarily switched off, the natural glow from various other emergency red lights etc. means that audience heads are still quite clearly visible... as is half the stage, albeit dark and gloomy. If only David Woodhead’s brilliant design had styled the staircase and kitchen in dark colours instead of off-white then the effect may have actually been achieved. The darker upstairs portion of the staging really was in total darkness... but these are points the producers are bound to be discussing right now.
It's all there, but it's a fine line between an audience shrugging their shoulders and really being terrified.
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