Circa Theatre
Oct 11-Nov 8 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

Wait Until Dark was a successful Broadway play before it became a well known film. I have never seen the film, so I was seeing the play without that influence. I was told by various members of the production that they had tried to make this version as close to the original as possible. The result definitely felt a little dated, and showed that despite the script being immaculately crafted, it too ultimately suffers from the same fault.

The play is set in London in 1965. Susy, recently blinded, is at home alone after her photographer husband Sam has had to go out of town for work. Although Susy is recovering some independence, mostly at the insistent urging of Sam, he has also arranged for her to be assisted by the awkward, 12-year-old daughter of their neighbour, Gloria. At first Gloria’s help is unwanted by Susy – although that changes when she is faced with intruders seeking a doll stuffed with heroin that Sam has unwittingly brought home following a trip overseas. Initially she unwittingly lets Croker and Mike, who originally try to trick her into giving them the doll, into her home. The plan originally is that Susy will give them the doll "of her own free will". However, when Susy smells a rat, she exercises her own free will to try and defeat them, aided by Gloria. The remainder of the play follows Susy’s attempts to outwit the con artists and thugs that threaten her. The upper hand changes many times, especially in the tension-filled second half of the play as Susy struggles for her life against the mastermind of the plot against her, the sinister and murderous Roat.

Ban Abdul, as Susy, does a credible job of portraying a blind woman without resorting to stereotypes. The amount of research into the impact of blindness on movement and actions that must have been done is evident. Susy is played as a strong and even slightly stroppy character by Abdul. Robert Tripe as her husband Sam has regrettably little stage time and a thin character, but acquits it well, clearly conveying that despite his love for Susy he firmly believes she must learn to fend for herself. Tim Gordon is sufficiently terrifying as Roat, although his performance remains fairly one-levelled, giving the role a caricature feel. Toby Leach is a bumbling and abrupt Croker who seems ill-fated from the start. Paul McLaughlin as Mike brings the most depth to the three villains. He seems to have some genuine concern for Susy's well being and although he is content to con her, he does not want to see her hurt. Gloria is played alternately by Holly McDonald and Rebekah Smyth.

The first half of the play drags somewhat. The three villains deliver plenty of dialogue about their plans and their motives. Scenes are punctuated by the opening and closing of a dramatic red curtain lit with floor lights. Although I understood the nostalgic effect that was being aimed at here, this seemed to occur unnecessarily at many points – and I am never a fan of long scene changes. Nearly an hour and a half is spent painstakingly setting up the second half of the play. As a result the first half of the show is remarkably low on suspense for a thriller. When the pay off comes in the second half, it is somewhat satisfying to see how each question is answered, but ultimately I felt it didn’t account for the tedium of the first half. I think this is that many of the questions that are raised are in themselves not that interesting. However, the moment in which Susy’s cleverly devised plan to escape Roat is undone is a moment of genuine suspense.

Thrillers are difficult to pull off on stage. In this production, much assistance is derived from Jen Lal’s excellent lighting design, which plunges the audience into disorientating darkness several times. John Hodgkin’s set is typically cleverly and authentically designed, aside from the large window in what was described as a basement flat. I felt the music, designed by Jeremy Cullen and director Peter Hambleton, using parts of Henry Mancini’s score for the film version, was a little heavy handed, in much the same way as the curtain, but had a similar retro effect.

Although it was interesting to see a piece of theatrical history on stage and the production was well executed, I failed to see the modern relevance or basis for re-staging this play. Ultimately it has little of interest to offer. Many of the theatrical conventions it has embraced have largely moved on – convoluted plots being one of them. Victims and villains have become more complex. Wait Until Dark is a well crafted, but ultimately hollow play in my opinion.

See also:
» Lights Out: Wait Until Dark (an appraisal of Circa’s production in relation to the 1966 film)