May 2014 | Hong Kong City Hall Theatre
Wait Until Dark is a new Cantonese-language version of the play by Frederick Knott, translated for the casual theatre audience as 《盲女驚魂》 – something like ‘blind woman: scary’. Strangely the author fails to get a mention on their website, unlike Audrey Hepburn. In fact, they seem to be implying that this is an ‘original stage version’ of the film version?
This makes very little difference, as the performance is a dreary attempt at 1960s drawing room realism, whose only claim to ‘originality’ is the change in language. The setting makes no concession to the actors, attempting something enthusiastically London-esque from the 1960s. The set is indeed fantastically detailed, and as an installation piece this would be an impressive work of art, spoiled only by a few key elements obviously impossible to acquire in Hong Kong – most notably a rotary dial telephone and a Western-style sink.
The actors wear their fluffy wigs and sideburns with great aplomb; a moustache is employed with seriousness and dedication. Unfortunately, while the audience occasionally finds humour in the melodrama, the actors seem not to have been let in on the joke. Chan Kiu as Mike is perhaps the most wooden and uninspired performance, especially as his character is perhaps the only one with any kind of arc in the story. It is not the fault of the actors that there is little or no character development in the play, which centres around the unique dramatic possibilities of having a blind character in the main role. Wong Wai Chi does a convincing job as a blind woman, apart from unaccountably wearing high heels in her own home. Kwok Ching Man as Gloria also performs her character well, and is the only one to find any humour in the text.
While the performance clearly had high production values and in most cases reasonable and experienced acting performances, it is hard for me to find a reason to justify its existence as a piece of theatre. It might have been produced for TV with very little change to the set or performances. The lighting and sound only departed from realism in the moments just before and after the bizarre extended blackouts. In these moments, the lighting was dramatic, and could potentially have ‘framed’ theatrical tableaux. However, there were no such tableaux to frame, and the fragments of sound during the blackout so resembled incidental lift music that any tension was immediately lost.
I have to congratulate the Hong Kong Repertory theatre for providing surtitles in English as well as Standard Chinese – as far as I know, they are perhaps the only group in Hong Kong to do this consistently. They also have audio-description, and described surtitles for accessible performances. There is a positive message to be found in the play as well, about the treatment of visually impaired people, and this is backed up by the technically accessible form of their performances.
They have successfully recreated the play in order for it to be enjoyed by a Cantonese-speaking audience, but they seem to lack the ambition to do anything more than that.