The Night Watch

The Night Watch brings Sarah Waters’ wartime novel to the Royal Exchange stage.  Told in reverse chronological order, 1947 – 1944 – 1941, three love affairs are formed during the danger and excitement of war, only to end in 1947 as the country, and the people, try to rebuild their lives.  Set on a stage of three concentric rings, the outer two constantly, but slowly, rotating in opposition, there is a feeling that this is a cycle that repeats again and again.

Blessed with a talented cast that bring out strong and well defined characters, director Rebecca Gatward weaves the strands of the narrative together into the backdrop of war.  As soon as you enter the Great Hall, sirens and bombs are never far away.  And yet at times this production is strangely quiet, almost lonely.  Lighting is muted, stripped back to the colours of earth, metal and smoke.  Themes of loss permeate the play, such that we are fascinated by their source; the reveal structure is used to great effect.  Male roles are confined to the fate of conscientious objectors.

There’s a point three quarters of the way through where the pace wobbles as the director creates a visually stunning scene, breaking the spell of the play; as a result the final scene loses emotional impact.  That’s a shame because the beauty of this play is in the otherwise perfect pace, the attention to detail and the fascinating interaction of the characters with one other.

Still, this feels like the Royal Exchange returning to what it does best.  The Night Watch is an intelligent, well constructed play with which you can engage completely.  The reverse ‘reveal’ structure is beautiful, at times heartbreaking, and the acting superb.  It’s so good to see the Exchange do something as ambitious and thoughtful as this.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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