In Wait until Dark, playwright, Frederick Knott once again returns to the formula that brought him such success with his 1952 thriller, Dial M for Murder. In a fascinating twist, Knott heightens the tension by creating a blind heroine, Susy Henderson (Jenna Roberts), who must turn her blindness to advantage to survive the desperate attempts by three men to retrieve a doll, concealing contraband, and inadvertently brought back from Amsterdam by husband Sam (Euan Bowen). Knott's plot is a recipe for ingenious surprise, complex clues and gripping tension, keeping an audience transfixed in a state of nerve-knotted expectation.
Canberra Rep rises to the challenge with a production of which the company can be immensely proud. Every detail of the staging of Knott's thriller has been meticulously examined. Director Jordan Best, keeps a tight rein on the action, with precise timing,skilfully choreographed stage business and, with the excellent support of Matthew Webster's sound design, an instinct for suspense and atmosphere. Michael Sparks' impressively authentic set design, impeccably constructed by Rep's stage crew, is a gift to actors and director. Set and costumes, designed by Anna Senior with a careful eye for London clothing of the time, lend truth to the actors' actions and motivation.
Best has cast well with experienced performers Roberts, Zach Raffan as the threatening Harry Roat and Riley Bell as spurious criminal Mike. Offsider Croker is played with appropriate nervous volatility by emerging actor Nelson Blattman. Unfortunately much of his diction is lost during the first act's lengthy and complex exposition. Another newcomer, Annabel Foulds, provides humour in her lively portrayal of 12-year-old Gloria, Susy's excitable ally. Bowen creates a likeable cameo as Susy's husband Sam. It is Roberts, however, who creates the performance of the night. Her Susy is utterly riveting, convincing in every gesture and movement. The challenging role is further testament to Roberts' talent and versatility.
Although Wait until Dark is a thriller in which an audience is privy to deception and criminal intent, and yet powerless to warn Susy of her misplaced trust, careful attention to revelations in the plot is crucial. Vocal clarity is essential during the initial meeting of the villains of the piece. Gradually the plot will repeatedly reveal itself, allowing the tension to build towards a powerful climax. Rep's Wait until Dark pays respectful homage to the thrillers of the past that still have the power in a production as well staged as this one to entertain and thrill with fright.