Friday, 24 February 2017

Wait Until Dark, Canberra Rep

Stage thrillers are an endangered genre - there are a large number of scripts out there, but it's rare to find a really good one (and most of them tend towards the spoof end of the genre, which all too frequently ends up with a comedy thriller that is neither funny nor thrilling). It's one of those genres that can be paradoxically difficult - the very simplicity of the characters and the situations means that performers don't necessarily have a lot of support to avoid slipping into stock characterisations and cliched actions that only happen because "it's in the script".

Fortunately, "Wait Until Dark" avoids a lot of those cliches - the story of three con-men eager to retrieve a doll full of heroin from an apartment under the nose of an unsuspecting blind lady is a slow build but the last ten minutes, in particular, are as tense as theatre can get. There's just enough dimensions for the characters to be more than cardboard cutouts, and plenty of twists and turns as the differences between the three con-men become apparent. Jenna Roberts makes Suzy simultaneously vulnerable and tough - she's never just a damsel-in-distress, she's a woman in a difficult situation who takes on the cards she's dealt with grim determination and just the right amount of humor. Riley Bell as the con-man who most effectively wheedles his way into Suzy's life has just the right mix of scumbag and sincerity - we almost want to believe him just as we know that 90% of what he's telling Suzy is a manipulative lie for his own ends. Annabel Foulds is wonderfully comically indignant as the slightly brattish girl upstairs who Suzy battles with but finally enlists as support. Euan Bowen combines a mix of tenderness and teasingness that makes Sam and Suzy's relationship so very real, lived-in and comfortable. Zach Raffan's Harry Roat is effective in his more overtly menacing moments but I do wish we'd seen the shark-in-waiting a little bit more during the scenes where he's not directly menacing anyone. Nelson Blattman is a little young to be posing as a police sargeant (maybe a constable...) but he's got a nicely suggestible quality that suggests exactly why this guy has drifted into a life of crime.

Michael Sparks' set is a perfect dingy 50's downstairs apartment, with authentically ancient kitchen furnishings. Cynthia Jolley-Roger's lighting design shows why she is the queen of suggestive moody lighting - just enough to make the skin creep. Similarly Matthew Webster's sound design hightens the tensions like a good old-fashioned thiller soundscape should.

An effective night out to draw you in, make you tense and make you gasp.