Wait until Dark is a claustrophobic thriller which finds increasingly clever ways to complicate the limited single setting of a basement apartment. A decent cast is let down by a production that never quite achieves the tension and suspense required to build towards the climactic conclusion.
Wait until Dark passes for an enjoyable evening, but doesn’t quite manage the claustrophobic thrills that the play is well known for
Frederick Knott is better known as the author of Dial M for Murder, which enjoyed West End and Broadway success before Hitchcock turned it into the memorable film. Knott only ever wrote two further plays, with 1966’s Wait until Dark his only other hit. Originally set in a Greenwich Village apartment in NYC, the recent UK revivals have transposed this to Notting Hill and this is the path taken by director Patrick Kearns.
Knott’s thriller centres around three con-men trying to locate a heroin filled doll hidden in Suzy Hendricks’ apartment. Hendricks is a recently blinded housewife whose husband is conveniently at work throughout much of the play leaving Hendricks in her apartment slowly cottoning onto the ruse that the con-men have come up with.
As its very climax, Wait until Dark should be about ingenuity and natural advantages as the sighted characters hold their breath and try to sneak around an opponent familiar with the house’s geography with the dingy basement apartment meant to be full of pitfalls that Hendricks navigates and lifelines that these eventually provide. The script to Knott’s play even guides producers on how to build the set to accentuate the tension however there is only a passable nod to this in talking Scarlet’s production, leaving the suspense somewhat lacking.
When the play was turned into a film, movie theatres had a gimmicky trick of slowly turning out all the lights in the theatre until, finally, the ending was in complete darkness. It’s a gimmicky trick that worked, and there is a whole range of lighting inspired effects that can add to this claustrophobic tension. It was odd, therefore, that this production didn’t come with a lighting designer, or at least not according to the programme. Wait until Dark requires exquisite timings from actors, sound and lighting technicians to make this tricky puzzle work onstage. Whilst Director/Sound Designer Kearns’ decently executed the sound element, the same can’t be said for the lighting. The final climatic scene being played out in complete darkness was somewhat lost by the significant light bleed from the tech booth.
It’s a pleasure to watch the actors though and Anna Brecon is an excellent Suzy Hendricks, making the early naivety through to dawning suspicion and desperation seem all too believable. Roat, played by Peter Lovstrom, has the East End gangster voice down to a tee, almost as though a director has given him a copy of Guy Ritchie’s Brit Gangster film Snatch and told him to replicate Bricktop. Amongst the rest of the cast, both Harry Hart and Samuel Clemens are convincing, in particularly Clemens who manages the nuances of the “good cop” part skilfully and persuasively.
There’s much to commend this production, and Knott’s play is a staple that should be on anyone’s ‘must watch’ list. Talking Scarlet’s Wait until Dark passes for an enjoyable evening, but doesn’t quite manage the claustrophobic thrills that the play is well known for.