DramaNorth WestReview

Night Watch – The Royal Exchange, Manchester

Writer: Sarah Waters

Adaptor: Hattie Naylor

Director: Rebecca Gatward

Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

The novel Night Watch, written by Sarah Waters, concerns a group of people who, in wartime Britain, are compelled to live in shadows: lesbians, failed suicides, conscientious objectors and women pregnant out of wedlock. Kay (Jodie McNee) a depressed former ambulance driver is helped to see herself in a different light following an encounter with someone from her past. Conscientious objector Robert (Ben Addis) meets Duncan (Joe Jameson) with whom he was imprisoned although the reasons for the latter’s incarceration are unexpected. Helen (Kelly Hotten), the owner of a dating agency, is consumed by suspicion about her lover Julia (Lucy Briggs-Owen).

Adapting any novel to the stage is challenging; it often feels like audiences are being given a précis or sample of key scenes that somehow fail to convey the essence of the source material. The first Act of Hattie Naylor‘s adaptation has the sense not so much of haste as necessity. The need to make sure that vital plot points are covered gives a contrived feeling to some of the scenes. Once the essential points are ticked off, and we have grasped who is related to whom or who they are sleeping with, the adaptation becomes more relaxed and much deeper.

This is significant as the adaptation follows the same format as the novel to show the haunting impact of the past upon the present. It starts just after the end of the Second World War and then works backwards to 1944 and 1941 to show the origins of conflicts and relationships that we have just seen resolved. To tackle such an ambitious structure director Rebecca Gatward creates the sense of events being picked from memory, which perfectly suits the episodic nature of the play.

Georgia Lowe’s set is bare with only minimal props. The stage comprises a pair of slowly revolving circles that may represent the way in which the lives of the characters constantly move around each other. The play opens with the cast in identical male demob suits and scenes are brisk to the point of being abrupt – like a snapshot of times gone by.

The device of working backwards has surprising results. Viv ( Thalissa Teixeira) is so elated at being able to express her gratitude to someone who helped her she positively skips off stage. But when the reasons why she needed help are revealed her impulsive past behaviour raises concerns history may repeat. Helen’s (Kelly Hotten) compulsive suspicions about her lover are shown to be rooted in guilt about her own past betrayals.

There are fine performances with Jodie McNee a standout. Her stance in the first Act- haunted, washed out and defeated, is a sharp contrast to the confident and inspirational character who appears later in the play. It is a terrific interpretation of someone worn down by, but learning to overcome, past events.

Strangely, although the play ends with the establishment of a relationship we know is doomed to fail, the production has an optimistic viewpoint on our ability to endure and overcome hardship; which, in these desperate times, is a point well worth making.

Runs until18June, 2016


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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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