DramaReviewSouth East

The Night Watch – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Writer: Sarah Waters

Adaptor: Hattie Naylor

Director: Alastair Whatley

Reviewer: Alice Fowler

Amid the rubble-strewn streets of post-war London, four characters wander, lost. The year is 1947. Physically, each has survived World War Two unscathed. Yet as The Night Watch – closed based on Sarah Waters’ acclaimed novel – moves back in time, we discover how the intensity and disinhibition of war-time has brought them to this emotionally broken state.

As Kay, whose service as an ambulance driver brought a happiness she cannot recapture, says: “People’s pasts are so much more interesting than their futures – don’t you think?”. Thanks to Waters’ skill as a novelist, and the Original Theatre Company’s sensitive production, we too care deeply about the disappointed Kay; Duncan, imprisoned for homosexuality; Viv, his sister, with a secret of her own; and Helen, alluring and needy in equal measure.

Designer David Woodhead’s set is dark and atmospheric. The skeleton of a terraced house overlooks a simple table and chairs, with a fringed lampshade hanging just above. Rubble is heaped to either side: piles which grow in size and dominance as we move back in time through the bombardments and terror of 1944 and 1941.

In a uniformly excellent cast, Phoebe Pryce shines as Kay, a lonely, mannish figure haunted by her memories. Lewis Mackinnon convinces as Duncan who, after the war, has been taken in by Mr. Mundy (Malcolm James), his former prison warden, who masquerades as his ‘uncle’. What unites these disparate characters is love, of all kinds: gay and straight, unrequited, abusive and desperate. As the story’s many strands unfold, we see how the characters’ lives have ricocheted together in the febrile atmosphere of war.

As bombs explode and sirens sound, director Alastair Whatley brings us, his audience, into the chaos. In one memorable scene, characters dance together, faces concealed beneath their gas masks; while in another, prisoners huddle in Pentonville prison during an air raid, left to live or die by their wardens. This is immersive, compelling drama: highly recommended.

Runs until 28 September 2019 | Image: Mark Douet

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