BWW Review: WAIT UNTIL DARK, Richmond Theatre
Wait Until Dark first opened on Broadway in 1966, but many know it from the 1967 Hollywood film, where the lead role of Susy went to Audrey Hepburn, who was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for the role.
Written by Frederick Knott, author of Dial M Murder, the play is set in 60's Notting Hill and follows Susy, a blind woman who left alone in her apartment who must outwit a group of conmen hatching an elaborate drugs scam. The premise is promising enough, but the play lacks both suspense and sense.
Registered blind at the age of 13, Karina Jones takes on the role of Susy. Incredibly, she is the first blind actress to take on the role of a blind woman since the play was written. This guarantees the authenticity of the disability, rather than being a gimmick; I overhead a group in the audience behind me discussing how well Jones was 'acting blind'. She is an able actress, although her high-pitched whining and hysteria as the danger increases becomes rather annoying.
Oliver Mellor is probably best known for his role in Coronation Street. He will be a big draw to this production but is rather wasted as wet husband Sam.
The trio of villains is faced with a combination of an overly complex deception combined with a variety of disguises and characters which leans dangerously towards farce. Jack Ellis copes admirably as Mike, lending the most authenticity as he dupes Susy into believing he is an old friend of Sam. Graeme Brookes fails to make enough of an impression as Croker. Tim Treloar is the only character who comes close to building a sense of danger as the sinister Roat.
Shannon Rewcroft plays Gloria, the jolly hockeysticks child of a neighbour. She has a convincing childish physicality and you end up rooting for her more than Susy.
The main problem with the play is the writing. There is an annoying implausibility to much of the story; Sam is surely not so stupid as to bring a doll back from Amsterdam for a complete stranger. Why would three hardened criminals bother to concoct such a complicated story to get back the doll when they could simply force the issue? Mike's sudden attack of conscience at the end of the play is also very unconvincing.
Overall, it is just too implausible and confusing to make the jeopardy that Susy faces real enough to be truly frightening. There is a constant wait for the suspense to build, which it simply doesn't.
David Woodhead's set is beautifully designed and makes use of the full height of the stage with a basement flat and prominent staircase. The period touches are carefully thought out, from the fridge to the telephone.
For a production supposedly immersed in suspense, the lighting design is crucial. Chris Withers does a fine job, with crackling strip lights and a moody half light. It's an unavoidable shame that the points of complete blackout are thwarted by internal theatre lighting.
There are some good performances here, but they cannot save the implausible story and frustrating lack of tension.
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan