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Tasting the Edge of Darkness: Wait Until Dark

by on 6 September 2017

Wait Until Dark

by Frederick Knott

The Original Theatre Company

at Richmond Theatre 4th to 9th September

Review by Eleanor Marsh

Frederick Knott’s play, Wait until Dark is a classic of the thriller genre and The Original Theatre company has made an award-winning reputation for itself by, in the main recreating classic plays across the theatrical spectrum.  At face value, then this would appear to be a match made in heaven.  Sadly in this case the “re-creation” went a little too far and what should have been a sinister and chilling experience was in effect a very nice night out at the theatre.

Wait until Dark is an exceptionally dark (in every sense) thriller.  The film version consistently appears relatively high up in the league tables of “scary moments” and the intimacy and immediacy of live theatre should increase the suspense manifold.  However, with the exception of the excellent and truly creepy musical composition and sound design of Giles Thomas, this production failed to deliver the dark and sinister experience that the audience expected.

Perhaps the production has been designed with a deliberate light touch (both in direction and lighting) in order to appeal to provincial audiences.  If this is the case I fear that those audiences have been seriously under-estimated and the play suffers from the type of dumbing-down that serves no party well. The play was written in 1966 and this production is set in London in the same year.  This was the era of the Kray twins and the Richardson family.  Times were tough and villains were tougher and the, admittedly difficult,  task of director Alastair Whatley was to make the somewhat dated dialogue work with as much menace today as it obviously did originally.  Today’s audience is used to seeing high levels of violence in day-to-day soap operas on TV, so more needs to be done in theatrical productions to engage, shock and frighten.  The game plan of this production seems to have opted to go in the opposite direction and play the comedy villain card.  All good playwrights introduce comedy into tragedies and ahead of violent or poignant scenes and Knott is no exception; this proven theatrical device has been working since long before Shakespeare’s gravediggers.  However, the two key villains of this piece, Roat and Croker, played by Tim Treloar and Graeme Brookes respectively appeared to be more of a comedy double act than the Ronnie and Reggie of Notting Hill and never developed into merciless monsters capable of inciting the level of terror that was required.

Jack Ellis’ portrayal of Mike, the conman with a conscience was spot on.  A little more false aggression at the end to illustrate his basic humanity winning out over his baser and more criminal instincts would have made this the perfect performance.  Something close to perfection was also achieved by Shannon Rewcroft’s Gloria.  The portrayal of a twelve years old precocious child by an adult has huge potential for disaster and or comic effect, but we saw neither in this performance of a character irritating and touching in equal measure.

WaitDark1

And so to the main role of Susy.  Karina Jones, who has been registered blind since the age of thirteen, has big shoes to fill.  Originally played by Lee Remick, the role was originated in London by Honor Blackman and the iconic performance known to most is the Oscar nominated Audrey Hepburn movie portrayal.  So how did Ms Jones fare in such company?  Pretty well actually:  she is a talented actress with an exceptionally attractive voice that she uses to excellent effect.  With an impressive CV covering Circus, Theatre, TV and voice work, she is also the first visually-impaired actress to take on this demanding role.  Now I for one was surprised that this had never been done before, so hats off to both actor and production company for grasping the nettle.  However, the reason why previous productions, and the film in particular, have been so effective when the lights literally go out is that the (sighted) actresses portraying Susy have had total confidence in their surroundings, as indeed the character would in her own home.  Thus the devices of characters moving furniture etc. to confuse Susy have been used to great effect.  This did not work so well in this production as movement of props and furniture was minimal (perhaps to protect Ms Jones) and sometimes went unnoticed by the audience until poor Susy (very gracefully thanks to her acrobatic training) fell over something.   The opportunity to build up the tension and feeling of menace as Susy’s confidence was being deliberately eroded by the other characters was sadly lost.   When working with the actors comfortable in their roles (Ellis and Rewcroft), Ms Jones was believable and sympathetic and she did her best to retain some kind of naturalistic performance even when interacting with the two “thugs”, who when all is said and done were portrayed as comic caricatures.

In summary, this was not the Wait until Dark I had hoped for.  Nevertheless, it is a very entertaining and enjoyable production with some lovely moments and if this is what the director set out to achieve he has indeed succeeded.  It is definitely worth seeing, but prepare to be disappointed if you prefer your villains from the “Brighton Rock” rather than “Lavender Hill Mob” stable.

 

Eleanor Marsh

September 2017

 

 

 

From → Drama, Reviews

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