susy and mike

Karina Jones as Susy and Jack Ellis as Mike. Pictures: Manuel Harlan

Wait Until Dark

Lichfield Garrick


Frederick Knott’s 1966 mystery play is perhaps best remembered for its film version a year later which garnered an Oscar nomination for Audrey Hepburn.

This stage version is set in Notting Hill rather than Greenwich Village but it still has a bit of a John McEnroe plot, as in ‘you cannot be serious’.

The idea is ingenious but the execution does rely on an audience suspending credulity for a while as blind housewife Susy sets about beating three experienced con men at their own game.

There is an old joke about a blind man challenged to a game of golf for a hundred dollars, easy money, except the blind man can pick the tee off time. He picks 3am.

Blind people are at a disadvantage in pretty much everything – except darkness, and that is the nub of Knott’s plot.

Suzy’s husband Sam (Oliver Mellor) has helped out a fellow traveller in Holland and brought back her doll to give to a little girl in hospital in London, but the doll has gone missing which brings in our three conmen Mike, (Jack Ellis), Croker, (Graeme Brookes) and Roat (Tim Treloar) who are desperate to recover it, or rather its contents.

Ellis’s Mike, the suave one in the con, always seems a bit too nice for violence, while Croker is rougher around the edges, and pretty much everywhere else if one is honest, and looks as if he might be a bit light on scruples, but he is a choirboy against Treloar’s quietly spoken, slightly sneering Roat, who has that sinister demeanour of a man who actually enjoys inflicting pain and killing people.

In fact he sees to enjoy every aspect of dying, his own demise, for instance, being only a couple of minutes short of a mini-series – his sudden, if short lived, resurrection bringing laughs rather than gasps from the audience.

Outwitting them is Susy, played by Karina Jones, who has been registered blind since the age of 13 – the first blind actress to play the role, which brings an unrivalled authenticity to the part.

She has to negotiate steep stairs and a stage cluttered with furniture and, with a touring production, she also has to cope with a different backstage and entrances every week, but as she is also an international aerial circus performer you get the feeling she takes pretty well anything in her stride.

That is certainly the case here as she provides a convincing performance of a woman first fearing her husband is involved in murder then for her life as she realises the so-called friend of her husband, the cantankerous old man and the brusque police sergeant are all part of an elaborate con to recover the drug filled doll.

There is also an interesting relationship with the stroppy pre-teen Gloria who helps Susy with shopping – a role played beautifully by Shannon Rewcroft.

David Woodhead’s substantial setting looks right for the period, 1966, with a very solid staircase down from an upper hallway to a basement flat while Chris Withers lighting has to be spot on with a complete blackout being the key point of the plot– even down to the theatre exit lights and stair edging – something the audience is warned about at the start.

You are a bit in the dark, figuratively and literally, at the end until the police, in the shape of  Tom McCarron, arrives, but if you can ignore the holes in the plot, such as why a psychotic sadist like Roat, with one murder to his name already in the hunt for the doll, would go in for an elaborate, long winded con rather than just the threat of a Black & Decker on the kneecaps, or why Sam would be developing prints in his living room when he had a studio - developer and hypo solution stain terribly and have you ever smelt them? – then you have a cleverly constructed thriller.

We see the three con men slowly building an alternative scenario, one where Sam is being implicated in murder and where Susy is the only one who can help him, until Susy rumbles them and turns the tables by turning the lights off – all except one which adds its own twist in a dramatic finale. Directed by Alastair Whatley for The Original Theatre Company, Wait Until Dark runs to 14-10-17.

Roger Clarke


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