That Night Follows Day  – Southbank Centre, London

Writer: Tim Etchells

Director: Tim Etchells and Hester Chillingworth

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Being an adult is pretty rubbish; there are responsibilities, bills and moral conundrums, there are global crises we cannot solve and domestic expectations that seem endless. Wasn’t life much easier when we were children… not according to the 17 performers that Tim Etchells has gathered together for the UK premiere of the narrative show That Night Follows Day.

Previously performed a decade ago in Belgium, the show is based on conversations with a group of 8-15 years about their perception of the adults around them, the things we say, the ways we behave and the limits we construct for children to exist within. And although the world has changed so much in the last 10-years, particularly in the widespread use of Internet-enabled devices, this updated version of That Night Follows Day demonstrates that we seamlessly adopt the same language of control that our parents used.

The diverse group of performers stand in a line at the front of the stage for most of the show, relaying the things adults say to them. Initially, these are chanted together looking at the things we try to teach children including how to behave, where to go and values such as fairness and decency. Like a performance poem, the rhythm soon establishes itself and, with occasional variation, remains fairly constant throughout this 70-minute show.

What we learn is that adults bombard children with words about everything from how the earth functions to film plots, times tables to gossip about family members, all of which they seem to absorb but never quite understand. Each of the show’s sections begins with “You teach us…”  or “You tells us…” before relaying hundreds of facts, concepts and expectations that we grown-ups in our age and wisdom deem it necessary to bestow.

Often, it’s very funny hearing the frustrated or exasperated tone with which the performers reflect our own silliness, intolerance and impatience back at us, and sometimes it’s quite revealing just how patronising we can be to younger people. The omission of facts is an interesting revelation, “you tell us the edited highlights” one performer explains, “you’re vague on the detail” another retorts. Sometimes it’s clear the children are angry that they are watched or checked-up on, annoyed that adults prevaricate or make transparent excuses, while at others they feel happy to be protected, looked-after and safe.

While the performers are all delightful, full of comic timing and clearly enjoying every second of this chance to shout at us for a change, the nature of a show like this means the format is quite unvarying, and there is no obvious attempt to group topics together. Directors Etchells and Hester Chillingworth use the full stage to rotate the speakers, but it is essentially an hour of listing.

It would be interesting perhaps for the performers to talk more openly about their response to the various rules grown-ups put in place for them and the extent to which they feel overwhelmed by the knowledge bombardment. This is implied here and there, but whether the repeated phrase “you tell us no…” is unreasonable or if our tendency to refer to demolished buildings, failed businesses and the famous figures of history is useful or annoying would be interesting to know.

It is clear in That Night Follows Day that children respect the experience and knowledge that we have but that we also use it in inexplicable and contradictory ways. They seem to like us but wish we were more honest and to back-up decisions with clearer reasoning. Being an adult is pretty rubbish but being a child can be a bit rubbish too, especially when silly grown-ups don’t listen.

Until: 15 December 2018 | Image: Contributed


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