York Theatre Royal – until Saturday 7 Sept 2019
Reviewed by Michelle Richardson
The Night Watch, adapted by Hattie Naylor, is The Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal’s production of Sarah Waters 2006 novel of the same name.
Set in London in the 1940s it is set around four main characters, who are linked by their experiences during the war. Unlike most stories this one goes back in time, starting in 1947, it then visits 1944 before concluding in 1941. I must admit that I found this a bit baffling at first, but once I realised the receding timeline it was fine, just unexpected.
Kay (Phoebe Pryce) seems troubled, undergoing therapy, visiting film theatres, but only seeing the second half of any film. She appears to be living in the shadows, not living at all. Helen (Florence Roberts) is a girly girly, in a relationship with another woman, the more masculine Julia (Izabell Urbanowicz). These three used to be friends, Helen and Kay were a couple before Helen fell in love with Julia. The other main character is Duncan (Lewis Mackinnon) a gentle soul, who we find out had been in prison during the war years. We never really learn why he was there, there is a hint of homosexuality and a death.
Some of the sounds and imagery are quiet harrowing. Duncan and his cellmate Fraser (Sam Jenkins-Shaw) huddling together under blankets in prison, other prisoners shouting, whilst a bomb raid is going on, is one of note. The set is very atmospheric, dark, sometimes too dark to follow what was happening on stage.
All the actors had real stage presence and are excellent in their playing their complex characters. Mackinnon was so touching as Duncan, real vulnerable. The actors in the love triangle were outstanding, though I did get a bit confused at one stage at who we were watching, Kay or Julia, as the stage was that dark and they do look similar from a distance, both tall and dark.
To fully understand the play, I really wished that I had read the book beforehand. At times I got a little lost and would have liked to have gotten to know the characters more in depth, especially Kay’s story, to find out what happened to her. At the beginning of the war she is so confident, full of joy, life and love, but by 1947 she is a broken woman. You are left to the conclusion that something terrible must have happened, war, broken heart (maybe?), but I wanted to know more. The other character I would have liked to try and understand is Duncan. What really happened to him and why was he incarcerated? Perhaps this was the intent to let the audience, reader keep guessing and making up their own minds.
The Night Watch certainly makes you think and is a bit of a challenge to watch, but that is not a bad thing at all.