In my own experience, I’ve found that the horror-thriller genre is best enjoyed in the comfort of my own home, on the small screen, with a handful of friends, the remote in hand to pause the scare-spree, and a blanket to hide under when things get a bit too tense. So, Wait Until Dark at Richmond Theatre surrounded by a packed auditorium of supportive theatre-goers (to keep me safe) couldn’t possibly scare me, right? Erm… wrong! Obviously, In the theatre there is no pause button, nowhere to hide, and nowhere else to look. And, after witnessing this groundbreaking production, presented by The Original Theatre Company in association with Eastbourne Theatre, why would I ever want to experience this genre any other way again?
Wait Until Dark was written by Frederick Knott (Dial M for Murder), and was brought to fame in the 1967 film adaptation starring none other than Audrey Hepburn as Susy, the young blind housewife who becomes the victim of an elaborate three-way con in her own living room. In this thrilling production for the stage, the role of Susy is portrayed by Karina Jones, and this truly remarkable actress, who is also an accomplished circus performer and theatre maker, allowed me to leave the theatre exclaiming… “Hepburn WHO?”
Firstly, the staging was beautifully crafted by designer David Woodhead and provided the perfect foundation to invite the audience into the world of the show. The beauty and intricacy of the stage design completely transported the audience into the basement flat of Susy and Sam’s 1966 home with impressive attention to detail. Direction from Alastair Whatley was full of precision and fine execution, as was his foreword in the programme graciously thanking all of the team behind each detail of the show and this sense of teamwork transcends throughout the technical elements of the show. Lighting design by Chris Withers and sound from Giles Thomas complements and accentuates the tension throughout, and never misses a beat.
The casting was equally strong with Jack Ellis playing Mike, Graeme Brookes playing Croker and Tim Treloar as Roat, creating the perfectly imperfect trio of con-men and criminal mastermind. They are all flawed, desperate and dangerously intelligent; each playing precise mind games with Susy, and one-another. Oliver Mellor plays Susy’s loving photographer husband Sam, and creates a playful, yet meaningful, relationship with his wife. Shannon Rewcroft cuts through the plays tension with her sweet-, feisty portrayal of Gloria, the little girl who lives upstairs and throws herself at the chance to save the day. Her presence added a real sense of warmth and humour to the production and intensified the later scenes of thrilling action.
The text itself is utterly brilliant, each line offering the audience another piece of the puzzle which the cast delivered with perfection. Not a single word is wasted in the script, and not a single word is dropped by the performers. I felt like I was an extension of their world, a nosy neighbour peering in through their front window, witnessing an act not intended for my eyes, but which I was unable to avert my gaze from. It was the ultimate voyeuristic experience
Karina Jones is the real powerhouse of this production, full of grace and intrigue she plays Susy in a truly fascinating way, full of fearful juxtapositions, independence and bravery. This production really does provide a genuine step towards equality and a level playing field for disabled performers on stage as, shockingly, Jones is actually the very first visually impaired actress to portray the role of Susy, a blind character. Unsurprisingly, this added a much deeper level of integrity to the show, there wasn’t one aspect of the production – or her character – that I didn’t believe and completely invest in. The final message of the show is truly uplifting when Policeman, played by Tom McCarron enters with Sam (within a superbly lit scene!) to offer Susy some assistance in the aftermath of her evening of intrusion. However, it is made clear that Susy can manage “just fine” on her own. A wonderful and poignant message to leave with the audience as they leave; we are all stronger than we first seem, even if at first we don’t appear to have the upper hand.
Clever plot twists and gripping writing, combined with a superb cast and incredibly attentive creative team, have created a true theatrical masterpiece. This production provides a master class in suspense, and really has raised the bar for gripping, cinematic theatre. When you experience an 800+ seat theatre collectively hold their breath, you know you are witnessing thrilling theatre at its finest.
Reviewed by Lisa MacGregor