Wait Until Dark Sparks Roberts’ Best
Theatre is a collaborative medium by nature and Canberrans can see some creative partnerships at their finest in Rep’s production of Frederick Knott’s “Wait Until Dark”.
Knott’s play has us look into a basement apartment intruded by three con-men trying to snatch a doll full of drugs with the only obstacle being a seemingly defenseless blind woman, Susy.
That sounds like a terrible plot when you write it out and indeed much of the first act is exposition. Throw into the mix that theatre doesn’t have the same luxuries as thriller cinema does in garnering a scare, this could easily end up a clumsy spoof.
However, Jordan Best masterfully engages her audience throughout, the early plot-dumps pay off and the climax is captivating as some powerful performances are framed by apt and atmospheric design.
Michael Sparks’ set is simply superb – detailed, domestic and homely until, with the flick of a light switch (which happens often), it transforms. Aided by Matthew Webster’s foreboding sound design and under Cynthia Jolley-Rogers’ lighting, the whole picture becomes more haunting, sinister, a touch expressionistic and well… dark.
This is not the first time Sparks and Best have delivered, most notably with 2015’s The Crucible. Best has also worked with Webster as a composer before. Wait Until Dark is a testament to what can happen when directors surround themselves with designers who can realise a unified vision.
Similarly, Jenna Roberts, in the demanding lead role, and Best have successfully collaborated on “Playhouse Creatures”, “A Midsummer Nights Dream”, “Love Song” and “Macbeth”.
We hope many more are to come because Roberts is nothing short of superb, playing blind in a completely believable way with physical nuance. More impressive is her psychological portrayal – Susy does not appear as a victim while undoubtedly being one, she is smart but not all-knowing and strong while showing vulnerability in her predicament. Being blind offers Roberts the unique opportunity to let her internalised reactions and decisions unfold purely for the audience’s eyes rather than through connection with other characters as a sighted character might.
Zach Raffan’s Roat, the head of the crooks, is outright scary as the play builds but none of it is telegraphed – I’d have found the piece even more tense had I been waiting for this turn rather than caught off guard by it.
Euan Bowen as Sam, Susy’s husband, does his job. That sounds like a criticism but it isn’t – his role is largely one-dimensional but it is important that he be likeable enough that we believe Susy loves him.
Riley Bell as Mike is a standout amongst the men and possibly the best I’ve seen from him. He is shifty, vicious and sympathetic. You hate the guy, you want to hug him and you want to see him get his comeuppance all at once.
Nelson Blattman as Crocker, rounding off the ill intending trio, performs with energy vocally and physically. However, it would be nice to have a more physically imposing male in the role in some key moments and he needs to watch his diction in early scenes.
Similarly, Annabel Foulds as Gloria, the young girl next door, shows great instincts but also needs to slow down and articulate. It would also add much to the piece by casting a younger girl. Gloria has some of the more comic lines in the play – they are far funnier if a young girl delivers them rather than someone playing a young girl.
Despite a couple of questionable casting decisions (no questioning the commitment of the actors) this is a tight and entertaining night out that anyone, even those that rarely venture to the theatre, will enjoy.
It is also a fantastic example of Best’s ability to bring together a great team and tackle difficult material with professionalism.