Reading the programme for The Night Watch, Director Alastair Whatley poses the question, “How many of us wish we could replay moments of our lives again?” There are so many occasions we all have in our lives that we’d wish to do this for; happy times to replay, worse moments where we might change actions – The Night Watch, written by Sarah Waters and adapted by Hattie Naylor spectacularly encapsulates this feeling, focusing on the lives of 12 individuals in the 1940s.
The opening monologue, starting the show in 1947, is delivered by Kay (Phoebe Pryce) and sets the entire show up poignantly. “I almost prefer them [films] that way – people’s pasts, you know, being so much more interesting than their futures.” The play follows that structure, beginning in 1947 and ending several years earlier.
As someone who has read the book, having the characters brought to life made for a wonderful 2 hours or so. From Robert (Sam Jenkins-Shaw) and Duncan’s relationship stemming from their prison days, through to Mickey (Mara Allen) and Kay’s friendship from their war experiences, all of the characters’ differing dynamics were captured in a way that was undoubtedly a strong representation and adaptation of the story that Sarah Waters had written in 2006.
Throughout the course of the show, the depth in character building was superb. As an audience member, you find yourself getting drawn right into each individual’s story and by the end of the first half I was looking forward to (knowing what was coming) how the adaptation was to be carried out. My partner who hadn’t read the book had more questions than answers by the interval but the second act answered all of them and more in what was the single best hour of theatre I’ve seen this year.
The lighting (Nic Farman), sound (Max Pappenheim) and stage transitions are to be lauded also. Some recent productions I’ve seen have forced the lightng and sound into the show, whereas it’s evident from the start of The Night Watch, that these elements were discussed and debated alongside the artist’s production as they worked in sync and really complemented the story. In darker periods such as the prison scenes and medical situations, Nic Farman and Max Pappenheim’s work exist in complete harmony and transport you fully into the scene, the way theatre should be created.
The Night Watch is a tender, tragic and beautifully poignant portrait of ordinary people caught up in the aftermath of an extraordinary time. The acting is outstanding throughout the entirety; Florence Roberts (Helen) and Louise Coulthard (Viv) stand out in both acts as the story follows their lives living as women in the 1940s. Their performances live up to exactly how I imagined the characters reading the novel and they’re compelling in a way their story lines were the ones I was drawn into most.
The stand out performance though was Mara Allen’s portrayals of Mickey and Mrs Alexander. Having only graduated this year from RADA, this was her first UK tour run and if this one performance is a reflection of her capabilities, she has a ridiculously bright future ahead. Combining humour and humility, Allen’s acting added dynamics missing elsewhere within the production and brought a fresh style to the show.
By the end, I was sad The Night Watch was over. The end of the show is just the start of the story which makes this production pretty unique; knowing what happens to these characters later on in their lives leaves a slightly bitter-sweet taste in the mouth at the end, but that being said, it’s a perfect conclusion to the story, rounded off the way it all starts. At times, The Night Watch offered some of the best theatre I’ve ever seen both from an acting and production stand-point and for that, I commend York Theatre and Original Theatre.
Go and see The Night Watch on the national run and I promise you won’t be disappointed.