The Night Watch – World Premiere
After the carnage of world war two, five people are left picking up the pieces of a fragmented life left scattered amongst the debris of post-war London.
Sarah Waters’ harrowing historical fiction novel has been adapted by Olivier-nominated Hattie Naylor into a two act play that tells the stories of Kay, Helen and Julia, three lesbians, Viv, a straight woman, and her brother Duncan, a gay man. Told backwards from the ending to the beginning the plot reveals how their lives are interconnected through their relationships, their misfortunes and their secrets.
There is a preconception that when being told you are coming to watch a “post-war play” that the plot will be filled with explosions, soldiers and tales of the front line. The Night Watch, however, is a raw portrayal of what real life was like for those who couldn’t fight and those who didn’t want to fight. There are a number of over-lapping themes in Waters’ novel that one might think would be difficult to transfer onto the stage, but Naylor has adapted the story perfectly and the exposing, intimate staging of the round at The Royal Exchange makes the ideal setting.
The scenes seep into one another, with actors leaving and entering the stage before a scene has begun and after a scene has ended, making for effortlessly smooth transitions. The stage spins slowly round whilst the scenes are taking place meaning not one audience member looses out on the action – and it would be a crying shame if they did.
The acting is flawless, from the second the actors step on stage (which is before the play properly starts) you are drawn into their world. The direction, by Rebecca Gatward, is impeccable and moves fluently from the stylistic to the naturalistic before there is even time to draw breath. There were moments, especially in one age-old argument between the characters Helen and Julia, where it felt as though I was peering in through someones window, gazing in on their private lives. The organic and rare authenticity of the emotions displayed on that stage were unparalleled.
There is not one weak link in this cast. To maintain a character’s significant traits and characteristics from the beginning to the end of a play is a challenge even for the accomplished actor but to do so starting from the end of their character’s journey back to the beginning is something entirely different.
Stand-out performances came from Joe Jameson playing Duncan Pearce who skillfully portrayed the backwards transition of his character’s mental state and Thalissa Teixeira, playing his sister, who was brilliant as the enigmatic Viv Pearce. Jodie McNee is suitably anguished as the main character Kay Langrish who is battling with heartache and most poignantly what her place in society is now that the war is over.
Other incredible performances came from Lucy Briggs-Owen who was perfect as the easy-going and enticing Julia Standing and comical in her role as the “Christian Scientist” Mrs Leonard. Also, Gbemisola Ikumelo provided some much-needed light moments of comic relief as Mickey.
The Night Watch delves into what went on in the blackouts of the 1940s and what has happened since they stopped. It uncovers the secret homosexual relationships without focusing too heavily on the fact that it was a complete taboo in that era. The story simply lays out bare the fact that this did happen and that it was as much a part of real life then as it is now.
This simplistic yet gripping adaptation of Waters’ novel in a must-see, from the exquisite acting to the clever staging this production has combined a harrowing story line with a highly accomplished cast that has made for an outstanding piece of theatre.
To book your tickets visit: royalexchange.co.uk
The Night Watch Production Photos at The Royal Exchange Theatre. Manchester.
19th May 2016
Photo Credit: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard