Frederick Knott’s classic story of murder and deception has been revived on both sides of the Atlantic countless times since its Broadway premier in 1966. Given further prominence in the 1967 film version starring Audrey Hepburn, Wait Until Dark has been a long-standing favourite for professional, amateur and repertory companies for over 50 years. So, what is it that makes the story so continually appealing? Is it perhaps the notion that we are all, subconsciously, a little afraid of the dark and the things that we cannot see?
The story revolves around Suzy, a housewife in 1960s suburban London, who has quickly adapted to living without her sight after losing it in a car accident a few months earlier. She is visited by three conmen, each claiming to know details about her husband and his involvement in a crime that has taken place in the neighbourhood recently. As an audience we are rendered powerless as we watch the three men work their way into Suzy’s home and mind, deceiving her at every possible turn.
The Original Theatre Company’s current touring production really plays on this sense of helplessness for the audience, taking them on a gripping rollercoaster with plenty of nail-biting moments along the way. You do have to remind yourself to take a breath every now and again! From the very opening of the production the tension is palpable; and it is evident that this production has relied on great involvement across the whole theatre production company to create such an atmosphere.
From David Woodhead’s clever set design – inviting yet somehow unnerving with its slightly ajar doors and hidden corners – to the subtle but powerful sound effects of a gate closing, and a refrigerator humming (Giles Thomas – Sound Composition); everything combines to create a truly sinister undertone to the story. And when, during the climactic scenes the whole auditorium is plunged into total darkness (emergency exit lights included) and we are forced to experience the panic through our use of hearing only, the effect is quite simply spine-tingling.
Taking on the role of Suzy, Karina Jones is stunning. As the first registered blind actress to play the role in the play’s 50 year history there are huge discussions to be had as to why we do not represent disabled actors in disabled parts as a matter of course and Jones’ performance is a shining example for all those who might dispute the idea. Highly engaging, warm and vulnerable to start, Jones’ performance takes on a huge change as the play progresses and it is captivating to watch.
Jack Ellis (Mike), Graeme Brookes (Croker) and Tim Treloar (Roat) are a magnificent trio of conmen, each more sinister than the next, with Treloar in particular handling the demands of Roat’s quirky mannerisms and insanity well, without falling into the trap of being too absurd. For those who remember the TV series Bad Girls and Jack Ellis’ chilling portrayal of Warden Jim Fenner; his performance here as Mike is equally as unnerving – charming and benevolent, yet with a constant undercurrent of deception. Some (much-welcomed) light relief is given by Shannon Rewcroft as the 12 year old Gloria, who captures the tone of a moody pre-teenager brilliantly.
To say anymore would be to give away the twists and turns of the plot and ruin a fantastic production. It is rare to see a well-known, sometimes over-performed play reimagined with such creativity. If you can get along to the Lichfield Garrick Theatre or another of the tour venues to see this you will not be disappointed – just a little afraid of the dark!
Playing at Lichfield Garrick until Saturday.
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