Play: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters adapted by Hattie Naylor

Performed at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester and directed by Rebecca Gatward.

I haven't read Sarah Walter's novel. The Night Watch, so I was spared from comparing the stage adaptation with the original text. I was able to take it at face value and just enjoy the staging of the play and what an interesting play it turned out to be. For a start, it is framed within a reverse chronology. We go back in time through 3 key points: 1947 and a drab post war malaise, 1944 and then the blitz of 1940. It is a play where the past is said to be more interesting than the future.

    We follow a group of people who are on the edges of mainstream life, minorities with shadowy secrets and forbidden desires. The people we meet and whose lives overlap all share the need to suppress elements of who they are and what they believe in. In the 1940's, homosexuality was still illegal and hidden. For a country at war, the Conscientious Objectors were imprisoned out of sight. We see some who turned their back on modern medicine and clung to the belief of the Christian Scientists that pain is all in the mind and must be addressed through prayer. Desperate women turned to back street abortionists as a way out of unwanted pregnancies.

    The staging of the play was cleverly achieved with the passage of time and the way people existed in their own singular little worlds conveyed through the moving stage. Consisting of two concentric circles, with the centre circle moving in the opposite direction to the outer, we saw time moving with the actors going on their separate paths at times. The lighting was stark and conveyed the grey drabness of the blackout. On the basis that nothing in the staging will have been coincidental, I hope that that my feeling was not too fanciful, that the many reflections of the actors in the unscreened windows at the edges of the round auditorium were adding to the sense of the layers of time we were being taken through. 

In short: a satisfingly complex glimpse into the lives of the marginalised and the 'different'.


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