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One Last Flutter

Wait Until Dark

By • West End
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There's a tiny fringe company called Sound and Fury who are pioneering a technique of doing shows completely in the dark, like The Watery Part of the World seen at BAC earlier this year. This supposedly innovative corner of the fringe is a world apart from the apparently creaky old West End, but in fact thriller writer Frederick Knott got there first 37 years ago, with the climactic scene to Wait Until Dark played in darkness at the play's London opening at the Strand Theatre in 1966.

Though the play has since become a repertory staple, it has never returned to the West End in the 35 years since it closed after a two-year run. That's partly due to changing fashion - stage thrillers aren't the draw they used to be - but mainly, I suspect, owing the success of the subsequent film version that starred Audrey Hepburn that has rendered its surprises redundant.

There's a danger that a review could do the same, and I may have already done so by mentioning the scene that is played in the dark. But even anticipating it, as I was, it makes for a stark, surprising and gripping climax to a play that may often seem dated but also still has a dangerous edge.

With the original 60s setting of the play wisely retained in Paul Farnsworth's appealingly appropriate design, it at least feels deliberately anachronistic - and features like phone numbers that are stated as, for example, "Bayswater 1113" confirms it.

But there's also something universally chilling about the violence of the dark, especially as amplified by Knott making his play's victim blind, and then observing her as she is terrorised in her basement Notting Hill flat by three men who are in hot pursuit of a child's musical doll that her husband has unwittingly carried back from Amsterdam.

Under Joe Harmston's direction, the tension and terror are both in place, with Gary Mavers, Tony Scannell and Peter Bowles piling on the menace as Saskia Wickham ineffectually cowers but eventually finds her strength to fight back. The result is an enjoyably old-fashioned and entertaining West End night out.

- Mark Shenton


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