Wait Until Dark

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

11/10/2008 - 08/11/2008

Production Details

A masterfully constructed play for fans of spine-tingling thrillers, Wait Until Dark ran for two years on Broadway and the West End in the Swinging 1960s. The movie, starring Audrey Hepburn, ranks with classics of controlled suspense such as Rear Window and Night Must Fall.

Photographer Sam unwittingly brings a doll filled with narcotics into London, and three hardened con-men uncoil a deadly deception to get it back. Sam’s wife is a beautiful young woman who happens to be blind. She thinks she is safe alone in their Notting Hill flat – but a chair has been shifted from its usual position, a strange odour lingers in the air…

…and the terror is just beginning.

Kindly supported by Gladstone Vineyard and Chris Finlayson.

Wait Until Dark
By Frederick Knott
Running Time: 2 hrs 15 mins incl. interval
First Half – 1 hr 25 mins
Interval – 15 mins
Running Time Second Half – 35 mins

WAIT UNTIL DARK is a revival of the classic 1960’s thriller, opening at Circa Theatre Mainstage on Saturday 11 October. This delicious drama for fans of spine-tingling suspense will have you gripping the edges of your seat at Circa.

The film, starring Audrey Hepburn, garnered Oscar nominations and the Henry Mancini soundtrack takes us back to the heyday of Hitchcock, of the Rolling Stones and Mary Quant, as this masterfully constructed play unfolds before your eyes.

Peter Hambleton (Home Land, Who Wants to be 100?, The American Pilot) directs a multi-award winning cast in Frederick Knott’s quintessential 1960’s thriller – Paul McLaughlin, Toby Leach, Tim Gordon, Ban Abdul, Robert Tripe; and, introducing, Rebekah Smyth and Holly McDonald.

Featuring (in order of appearance)
Paul McLaughlin - Mike
Toby Leach - Croker
Tim Gordon - Roat
Ban Abdul - Susy Henderson
Robert Tripe - Sam Henderson

Rebekah Smyth and Holly McDonald alternate in the role of Gloria.
Policemen played by Edward Watson and Matt Clayton.

Set Design by John Hodgkins
Lighting Design by Jennifer Lal
Costume Design by Gillie Coxill

Publicity by Paul McLaughlin & Kate McGill Publicity
Stage Manager - Deb McGuire

Produced by Peter Hambleton, Paul McLaughlin and T.A.C.T for Circa Theatre.

2 hrs 15 mins, incl. interval

Blind faith: successful revival of 60s hit

Review by Elizabeth Alley 01st Nov 2008

Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark was a Broadway hit in the mid-60s and a movie classic starring Audrey Hepburn. But if the rationale of a thriller is to scare the audience to death, it’s probably an advantage to see this production afresh, open to all the thrills it can offer.

Circa is the ideal venue for Wait Until Dark. To rark up the fear factor, the audience needs to be almost within the play, and John Hodgkins’ set, a basement flat in London’s Notting Hill, draws us in. The stage is curtained in red velvet, and Henry Mancini’s ominous music sets the tone. Knott’s skill in introducing tiny details that become hugely important makes the audience sit up and take notice. The play presents major challenges of stagecraft, particularly with lighting (and management of the dark), and at every level of Peter Hambleton’s skilful production these are wonderfully well met. [More]


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One of the finest shows of the year

Review by Jackson Coe 21st Oct 2008

Wait Until Dark is teeming with flair from before the curtain even opens. I’m often one to get quite excited by curtains, especially when they are used with panache. The magnificent red curtain which greets us as we enter the auditorium to see Wait Until Dark hints at a rich experience to come, an experience which is cleverly constructed and masterfully executed. A show such as this is what plays are all about; a robust script, a detailed design and superb acting.

Set in the 1960’s, the play is a thriller which pits the wits of a blind woman, Susy, against the wiles of three men conspiring to steal a doll. The three conspirators develop an elaborate set-up which Susy gradually unravells with the help of her young neighbour, Gloria. The plot is intricate and complex, and a lot of the pleasure in the piece is to be found in marvelling at the detail of the thing. Everything has its place in the fabric of the plot, and every chance encounter has a ripple further down the story. It’s a lot of fun just watching it take place in front of you.

A script with such an elaborate plot must be supported by a competent cast. Here, Ban Abdul holds down the difficult role of Susy with a finesse which is confident and poised, performing the functions of a blind woman with well developed skill. The three conspirators each add their own dynamic to the show; Paul McLaughlin plays a wily but ultimately soft Mike, Toby Leach plays the rough Croker, and the slightly camp Roat is played with conviction by Tim Gordon. Together, the three conspirators are menacing and scary. Also worthy of mention is the young Holly McDonald, playing Gloria on opening night (a role shared by Rebekah Smyth), whose strong characterisation is impressive for one so young.

Rounding off the great cast and script are some fantastic design features. John Hodgkins has constructed a superbly believable London flat which is detailed and very thorough in its authenticity. Like the script, where everything has its place in the story, so too does every feature of the set serve a purpose. Supporting this is Jennifer Lal’s lighting design, which contains some great looking effects and sets the mood with consummate skill.

But the truly spectacular feature comes right at the end of the play, when all of the lights are off and the audience experiences exactly what Susy is going through. Every sound becomes a potential threat, and the fear and tension hits proportions which I never quite thought could be reached in the theatre. Moments such as these, when the audience are audibly gasping, are what defines this production of Wait Until Dark as one of the finest shows of the year.
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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Blinder lacks fear

Review by Alicia Mackie 20th Oct 2008

Ban Abdul’s performance as the recently blinded, vulnerable and naïve Suzy in Wait Until Dark is nothing short of blinding.  

Her clumsy but clever character attempts to outwit two ex cons, Mike and Croker, along with murderous Roat who will stop at nothing to retrieve the drug filled doll in Suzy’s possession.

Gullible but quick thinking Suzy invites the crooks into her home (under the impression that they are detectives) and with the aid of her dead pan neighbour Gloria (Holly Mcdonald), manages to outplay the thugs.

Frederick Knotts undoubtedly wrote a good thriller, as proved in Audrey Hepburn’s 1967 movie; this one however was no thriller. Henri Mancini’ original soundtrack, intended to function as an implement of fear, merely underscored the fact there was none.

Much like the music, the satire and comic values of the play add a great undertone but remove any sense of terror, leaving the audience questioning the substance of the somewhat predictable play.

The final scenes are triumphant and refreshing as Abdul manoeuvres around an unlit stage and invites the audience and fellow characters to experience the darkness in which the heroine lives. She and Roat (Tom Gordon) fumble through the dark with unbelievable talent. Occasional lighting from a match or opened refrigerator allowed us to re focus and rejoice as Abdul overpowers Roat. 


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Plot’s contrivances defy our belief

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 15th Oct 2008

The opening night audience seemed to take to the 1966 thriller Wait Until Dark and gave it a rousing reception after they had been held by the tension-filled last scene when the heroine comes up with a plan as clever as her opponent’s is convoluted.

I get frightened easily by thrillers in the cinema. I came out of Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques shaking but I have only once been truly frightened and surprised by a thriller in the theatre. It was a brief moment during an amateur production of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians and it was so long ago it was called by its original title Ten Little Niggers.

The whole point of thrillers like Wait Until Dark and the playwright’s more famous, thanks largely to Alfred Hitchcock, Dial M for Murder is to scare the living daylights out of an audience. But at first I had to get over the shock when entering Circa’s auditorium of seeing a bright red front curtain and, believe it or not, footlights and then to read in the programme that the play has three acts and each act is broken up into scenes.

After a brief burst of threatening music taken from Henry Mancini’s score for the Audrey Hepburn movie, which I vaguely remember seeing, the curtain parted to reveal a realistic setting of a flat in London’s Notting Hill Gate of 1965. Then I noticed the about two metre high window over the kitchen sink – and it is meant to be a basement flat?!

My willingness to suspend my disbelief started to waver and it kept wavering as Frederick Knott’s setting up of the plot became more and more contrived. The villains concoct an unnecessarily complicated scheme to get what they want when some simple, old-fashioned violence could have achieved the same result.

The suspension of my disbelief was briefly revived for the climactic scene when the blind heroine, Susy, is at last confronted by the chief villain who is about to get hold of a musical doll that is stuffed with heroin which Susy’s gullible and innocent husband (Robert Tripe) had brought back from Holland because a woman had told him it was for a young girl in hospital.

The strange thing about the villain, played with smooth theatrical villainy by Tim Gordon, is that he is into disguises and changes of clothing, which is odd when his victim is blind. It’s also strange that the heroine, played with speed and forcefulness by Ban Abdul, can tell the difference between the sounds different types of shoes make but she is totally unaware that at times Roat and his two ex-con sidekicks (Paul McLaughlin/Toby Leach) are in the flat often only centimeters from her.

Knott’s cliff-hanging scenes with strong curtain lines interrupting the action with the intention of heightening the tension seem outdated and belonging to the age of The Perils of Pauline or her more modern equivalents on TV soaps.
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


Paul McLaughlin October 21st, 2008

For a refreshingly positive critique of WAIT UNTIL DARK please check out Jackson Coe's review, courtesy VUW's Salient:


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Relevant commentary or escapist thrills?

Review by John Smythe 12th Oct 2008

Sustained applause greeted the final blackout of Wait Until Dark, Frederick Knott’s ingeniously contrived and now classic thriller, on opening night at Circa. Set in a Notting Hill basement flat in 1965, there is little evidence – nor should there be – of ‘swinging London’ in John Hodgkins’ authentically functional set or Gillie Coxill’s appropriate costume designs except, perhaps, for a hint of India in Susy’s clothing.

The whole play, however, may be seen as a metaphor for women’s liberation in that blind Susy (Ban Abdul) finally has to use her own intelligence and core confidence to outwit a clever trio of greed-motivated and morally moribund con-men, fixated on recovering a stash of heroin hidden in a doll. And the only person who offers Susy real help, at last, is her 12 year-old upstairs neighbour Gloria (Holly McDonald, alternating with Rebekah Smyth), who helps with shopping and things and is on the cusp of teenage brat-hood.

Not that Susy’s photographer husband Sam (Robert Tripe) is an ineffectual wimp, even if he did foolishly agree to a stranger’s request that he bring the doll from Canada for a sick child. Ex-army, he is now a strong believer in the empowerment of the individual, possibly to a fault – e.g. the way to help Gloria get over the trauma of being called "four eyes" at school is for them to call her "four eyes" too, which doesn’t really disempower the abuse because it’s not Gloria who has appropriated the insulting language.

But there are no superheroes here to save the day. They are fallible characters in a changing world characterised by the upheaval of all that’s familiar and the consequent challenge to their capacity to trust. In her own home Susy can get about, at speed if necessary, trusting everything to be in its proper place. Until it’s not. Then who does she trust? Her choice is to be the fearful victim or be self-reliant and strong.

Ban Abdul navigates the central role with tremendous skill, simultaneously demolishing any facile assumptions we may make about the trials of being blind while sharing the more intricate truths of Susy’s experience at every level. Like her we become sharply attuned to every detail, empathising with her focus on sound while visually clocking every action for a slip in logic.

On this score I can’t help but note that after two of the conmen realise they’ve left fingerprints over what turns out to be a murder scene and fastidiously wipe every potentially incriminating surface, they proceed to touch the banister and all its knobs without a second thought. Maybe it’s intended, to show us they’re dumb.

But a good thriller requires strong adversaries and a real fear that this time good may not prevail. I take Croker as being the least intelligent of the three and Toby Leach does a good job with what’s little more than a cypher. If part of his role is to offer comic relief, more could develop there but they are right not to over-emphasise that at the expense of credible peril.

Tim Gordon’s sociopathic Roat is a cold-hearted, steely-eyed, clever exponent of multiple personae who may or may not have met his match against the finely tuned ears of Susy, especially when darkness prevails. He is well executed throughout with Pinteresque menace but if there’s a moment when he too becomes vulnerable – which would, of course, strengthen the drama immeasurably – I don’t recall it.

More subtle and therefore intriguing, because we don’t know whether or not he can be trusted, is Paul McLaughlin’s conman Mike. He is either becoming attracted to Susy for her independent spirit and because she seems to trust him totally, or he is an even more ruthless exploiter of humanity than the addicted gamester Roat.

Personally I’d have liked more opportunity to dwell on such questions but the pace is cranked up under Peter Hambleton’s direction, possibly to cope with the vast tracts of convoluted dialogue the conmen spout in order to justify their presence, their assumed identities, the contrived situation, their requests and their actions. But rather than let them be glib with all that, more moments of danger for them, in the face of Susy’s unexpected skills, could both heighten the drama and play fast and loose with our sympathies.

One thing I looked for early on, and didn’t see, was the moment when the conmen realised Susy was blind. If they had prior knowledge of her condition, I didn’t get that. But there is so much to engage with at so many levels, objective and subjective, I may have missed it.

There is humour in knowing when they are ‘play-acting’ to con Susy, and this presents a big acting/directing challenge in sounding authentically phoney, or phonily authentic.

Robert Tripe hits the right note of ruthless compassion with Sam, challenging us as he challenges Susy with his independence ethic. And Holly McDonald treats us to an emotionally volatile Gloria who could clearly be the biggest threat to Susy’s wellbeing just by being so self-absorbed. Arguably she is the character who has the most life-changing-cum-character-forming experience.

Jennifer Lal’s lighting, operated by Isaac Heron, is crucial to making Wait Until Dark work as a thriller and it does, big-time. The darkness is utter – Lal demands we experience, totally if briefly, how it would be to be blind – and the isolated light sources bring a powerful film noir quality to many sequences.

The sound-scape, mostly live with a bit recorded (and designed by Jeremy Cullen and Peter Hambleton), also becomes hugely important as we too try to interpret what’s happening in the darkness. But I’m not sure the Henri Mancini music, from the 1967 film score, works here. At the decibels its played at, anyway, it imposes a reaction upon us rather than reflecting and supporting what we are feeling ourselves.

So does Wait Until Dark have relevance in 2008 beyond offering a good thriller experience? Well, what captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s – albeit outside the ‘flower power’ and ‘cool-to-be-stoned’ drug scenes – still holds true at heart for any individual who’s feeling threatened.

And terror and terrorism are hugely influential in our lives right now, as are the propaganda spin-doctors the conmen represent. Even if the current fear is more to do with crashing financial markets than suicide bombers, the ‘message’ regarding how best to confront it at a personal level remains valid. Plus the fear card has been played in the past two elections and someone may yet try to use it as trumps this time round …

But I come to these conclusions through a retrospective intellectual process and can’t say the play resonates that way in the process of experiencing it. Whether you see/ hear/ feel it as relevant commentary or escapist thrills, it is well executed theatrically.


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