Wait Until Dark

theSpaces @ Surgeons Hall, 7 – 28 August 2010

Reviewed for the Oxford Times

The original production of Wait Until Dark, the final play by Frederick ‘Dial M For Murder’ Knott, ran for 347 performances on Broadway. Its many revivals have featured such luminaries as Honor Blackman, Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Quentin Tarantino and Marisa Tomei. Horror maven Stephen King called the 1967 screen adaptation the scariest film of all time. So it’s safe to say that Oxford’s BlindSpot Productions are working with solid source material.

A student production, performed in a temporary theatre space, produced on a Fringe budget, can only dream of matching those star-studded forerunners, but BlindSpot shoot for those stars regardless, and their professionalism carries them a remarkable distance considering the means at their disposal.

High production values are in evidence from the outset. The set is a detailed, convincingly lived-in basement flat complete with functioning fridge: the plot demands this detail, but a less ambitious company might have balked at the technical requirements. The high quality of Rachel Beaconsfield Press’s design is marred only by the poor fit of some of the male cast members’ suits, which draws unfortunate attention to the age gap between the performers and their characters.

Wait Until Dark is a period piece, a good old-fashioned slow-burning mystery thriller, and like the script, BlindSpot’s production benefits from some good old-fashioned English understatement. Susy, the recently blinded resident of the flat, and Mike, the supposed friend of her husband who may or may not be her ally in the intricate plot, are both characters that do what must be done with the bare minimum of fuss. So, too, are Charlotte Mulliner (pictured) and Rhys Bevan, the relevant actors. Mulliner’s level-headed performance secures Susy’s role as a competent heroine, not a damsel in distress, while Peters’s efficient portrayal walks just the right line between ambiguous inscrutability and inconsistency.

Alex Jeffries and Matthew Monaghan — who play Croaker and Roat, a sinister pair with an unhealthy interest in Susy’s affairs — would both do well to observe a similar level of understatement. Monaghan over-enunciates, practically spitting his lines, and Jeffries wears a permanent sneer, unsubtly labelling both individuals as unsavoury: a fact that the audience ought to be allowed to realise gradually.

The production as a whole could do with tighter control of the pacing from director Griffith Rees. The cast tend to over-pause, sapping suspense from tense, but not quite heart-stopping, scenes — like the ingenious denouement, which, while demanding that the audience sit up and pay attention, doesn’t quite drag us to the edge of our seats.

Written by Frederick Knott

Crew includes Griffith Rees (director) and Rachel Beaconsfield Press (designer)

Cast includes Rhys Bevan (Mike), Alex Jeffries (Croaker), Agnes Meath Barker (Gloria), Matthew Monaghan (Roat), Charlotte Mulliner (Susy) and Jack Peters (Sam)

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