BWW Review: THE NIGHT WATCH, Richmond Theatre
Where would theatre be without literary adaptations? From The Woman in Black to Matilda The Musical, some of the best shows originate from books. At first glance, Sarah Waters' fourth novel, the 2006 hit The Night Watch, is ripe for adaptation for the stage. A tale of love and desire set during and after World War Two, it follows the stories of several Londoners in reverse. They manage to survive the war, but are forever-changed by their experiences.
We begin in 1947, where broken-hearted Kay feels lost without the excitement of the war. We then meet Helen, the woman who tempted Kay from her existing lover Julia, but then goes on to betray Kay with Julia herself. Their friend Viv struggles with the consequences of a doomed love affair, while her delicate brother Duncan struggles to cope after years of imprisonment.
Phoebe Pryce is very convincing as the androgynous Kay, brave and bruised after Helen's betrayal with Julia. Florence Roberts is as charming as she is flighty as Helen and Izabella Urbanowicz completes the love triangle as the confident Julia.
Lewis Mackinnon gives a standout performance as Duncan; a conscientious objector he has to face the suicide of his lover, then imprisonment for his beliefs. Mackinnon is fragile, tragic and totally inhabits the role.
Telling a story in reverse order is not a new technique; neither in novels nor on stage. Pinter's play Betrayal uses this method beautifully, to intensify the story, but here is feels like it is more of a spoiler. There is no anticipation and, with the exception of Duncan's story, the production feels oddly lacking in emotion.
Hattie Naylor's adaptation is faithful to the story, but this is not always to the benefit of a stage production. The first half in particular lacks some pace and characters tend to speak in long passages, rather than more natural dialogue. There are also too many characters retained, which is distracting and does not allow time for the complex relationships between the main characters to be explored sufficiently. Those who have not read the book may struggle to keep track and will certainly lose some of the richness of the text.
The second half is much more active and characters come to life, with the revelations of individual stories and featuring devastating bombings, illegal abortions and harsh imprisonment. The production actually concludes beautifully, when Kay first meets Helen when rescuing her from bomb-rubble, but it's shame that it sometimes feels like a slog to get there.
The production looks fantastic, with excellent period detail in hair and clothing. David Woodhead's beautiful design feels very authentically austere, with a ghostly, blown-out skeleton of a house set behind piles of rubble. This is complimented by Nic Farman's distinctive lighting, with a subtle gaslight contrasted by stark searchlights and bright torches. Sound design is also well thought out here, with the crackle of fires raging, loud explosions and echoing prison corridors adding to the atmosphere.
The effect of this is an immersive experience for the audience; the smoke and fear of the bombing feels very real. However, despite this and some very good performances, the production perhaps needs to be a little less faithful to the book to work successfully on the stage.
Photo Credit: Mark Douet