Wait Until Dark – Review

Karina Jones & Jack Ellis in Wait Until Dark. Images Manuel Harlan.

Frederick Knott’s main claim to fame was to come up with the hit thriller Dial M For Murder. His second play is largely forgotten and his third, Wait Until Dark, was his swansong. After just three plays he retired from the business declaring that he hated play-writing.

Fifty years on the Original Theatre Company has, possibly unwisely, decided to revive Wait Until Dark for a UK tour, which had its national press night at Richmond Theatre last night.

Sadly, what was once a tense thriller, which saw Audrey Hepburn play blind housewife, Susy, in the film version, has not aged well.

You know things aren’t right when the audience starts laughing at the supposedly gripping denouement.

Instead of sitting on the edge of their seats, wondering if Susy will escape the clutches of a sadistic killer, they were giggling and guffawing at the absurdity of it all.

In the cold light of day the story sounds, and is, preposterous. It may have stacked up at its 1966 premiere, but we’re all a lot more cynical and wordly-wise to believe one second of this highly convoluted, overly complicated yarn.

Central to the plot is Susy, played by Karina Jones who has been registered blind since she was 13.

Last night a number of theatre-goers, without a programme, were impressed at her ability to play blind without realising that, for the first time ever, a blind actress was in the role.

Is it a gimmick? It certainly adds realism to the part but, alas, the story fails to stack up her compelling performance.

And, despite an advanced warning that, at a key point, the auditorium would be plunged into total darkness, the final “nail-biting” scenes were played out illuminated by fire exit signs. Health and safety has a lot to answer for.

The story is set in a basement Notting Hill flat where Susy, who lost her sight in a car crash, lives with her photographer husband, Sam (former Corrie dishy doc Oliver Mellor, woefully underused).

On a recent trip to Holland he was approached by a stranger and given a doll to carry through customs. Stupid sap that he is, he agreed, only to lose the doll once he returned home.

Now a trio of desperate villains are hunting for the doll because it is stuffed with heroin.

But, if you saw the embarrassing size of the doll that director Alastair Whatley has gone with, you would appreciate that, once you removed its pull-string music box there would only be enough room for about a fiver’s worth of drugs.

But they go to a considerable effort to retrieve their merchandise and that includes murder.

David Woodhead’s set design isn’t very user-friendly for a blind person. There are steep stairs, a rug (which must be a trip hazard) and tables and chairs all over the place. Susy comes a cropper more than once.

She is left alone in the flat and at the mercy of Jack Ellis, playing smooth-talking conman Mike Trenton, his former cell-mate Croker (Graeme Brookes), pretending to be a copper, and Tim Treloar’s sinister Mr Roat who is masterminding the recovery operation.

They stage a home invasion and offer help but, when the initially vulnerable Susy smells a rat, it’s Roat’s terrifying intervention that prompts a fightback.

She’s aided by her neighbour’s young daughter, Gloria who, gosh, finds the whole thing jolly thrilling. Shannon Rewcroft is a breath of fresh air in this stale tale but she does get a little carried away with the Famous Five act.

The climax is supposed to be played in total darkness with Susy using her heightened other senses to outwit her attackers but it doesn’t really succeed.

Ellis tries to inject a shot of menace into his part but his camaraderie with Croker ends up as nothing more than an amusing double act.

Treloar’s intimidating Roat is about as evil as they come and he has a great, heart-stopping, Hitchcockian moment that the production will be remembered for.

The cast do their best with this disappointing and daft old play but it should have been left on the shelf, or in the hands of am-dram, rather than being risked on an expensive UK tour.

Playing at Richmond Theatre until Saturday and then touring.

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