Wait Until Dark – Review – York Theatre Royal
By Eve Luddington, November 2017
Wait Until Dark is best known as a 1967 film starring Audrey Hepburn and was described by horror writer, Stephen King, as the scariest movie of all time. The stage play was written a year earlier by the author of Dial M for Murder, Frederick Knott. In this production, the 1960s setting is retained but the venue moves from New York to London.
An announcement immediately before ‘curtain up’ warned that there’d be a prolonged blackout in the auditorium during the show. The audience was to remain seated – the lights would return. We were prepared for a hair-raising evening.
Susy Henderson, a blind woman, finds herself alone in her basement flat with three strangers. One of them presents himself as two characters – in separate scenes – Roat senior and his son. The other two claim to be a friend of her husband’s and a policeman.
They’re searching for a doll which her husband imported for a woman he met in Amsterdam, unaware it conceals a stash of heroin. In fact, the woman’s been murdered by Roat junior – who happens to be her husband – as she looked for the doll in Susy’s flat. They ransack each room but the doll is nowhere to be found.
Add to this heady mix of storyline the 12 year-old neighbour who at first thwarts, then supports, Susy and the fact that she stole the doll, and the scene is set for an unlikely but potentially intriguing thriller.
In the first half, there’s some comic rivalry between the three conmen who can’t resist trying to trick and outwit one another as they take advantage of Susy. Tension builds from the fact that the audience knows from Scene One that Roat, Croker and Mike are criminals while Susy cannot see what they are up to: as we watch them exploiting the vulnerabilities caused by her blindness, we wonder how she can possibly turn the tables.
The sound composition by Giles Taylor, an almost subliminal pulse, adds edge.
Despite my interest in these elements, I found the long exposition of Act One rather tedious and I perhaps wasn’t alone: the applause was polite rather than enthusiastic at the interval.
The second half engaged me more, as Susy’s acute hearing and detective skills came to the fore, and the action intensified. The sound, more pronounced, conveyed ominous threat. If the suspense leading to the climactic black-out didn’t exactly have me on the edge of my seat, it held me.
Karina Jones acted with honesty and intelligence the part of Susy; in her performance, a spirited and independent woman. Registered blind when she was 13, Jones is the first visually impaired actor to play the role. My awareness of this gave the character a reality which extended beyond the plot (and made me more angry at her exploitation, more delighted with her strengths than I might otherwise have been).
It takes a rare talent for an adult to portray a believable 12 year-old. Shannon Rewcroft (Gloria) has it: her mercurial mood changes, her mannerisms and her ferocity were all entirely plausible. Her declaration at the end of the play to a policeman trying to help, that Susy ‘can manage on her own’, was affecting.
Jack Ellis’s Mike, criminalised through debt and morally torn, was a fully rounded and at times sympathetic character. This was a strong performance.
“Element of menace”
Every thriller demands an element of menace to increase tension and raise the blood pressure: Tim Treloar provided it very effectively. His character disguised himself as both father and son Roat, but couldn’t prevent himself rocking in a manner associated with the mentally disturbed. Behind his pebble spectacles and calm demeanour was an unhinged, ruthless criminal: the question was, how far would he go?
Alastair Whatley has directed a sound production but it left me with reservations. I wondered at first if the play itself is outdated but that wasn’t the real issue for me. For a thriller to be satisfying, there should be goose-bump moments created by tension and suspense, and the shock of the wholly unexpected. These come partly from the plot, partly from technical effects and partly from the timing of action. The timing wasn’t always as immaculate as it could/should have been. Some of the stagery was awkward, too.
I enjoyed the evening – but I wasn’t gripped and I left the theatre vaguely disappointed.
images: Manuel Harlan