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The Night Watch

by on 19 November 2019

Surviving Survivor’s Guilt

The Night Watch

by Hattie Naylor, adapted from the book by Sarah Waters

The Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal, at the Ashcroft Theatre, Fairfield Halls, Croydon until 23rd November

Review by Denis Valentine

For the first half especially The Night Watch offers a very intriguing look into a period of time often overlooked by the mass event that came before it. The play delves into the lives of those attempting to live on from the Second World War and raises themes not often thought about when it comes to those time periods. Each actor on stage brings with them an air of a person living with a form of survivor’s guilt, an attribute not often thought about for those who outlived the war.

Phoebe Pryce and Mara Allen in The Night Watch by The Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal

There are many duologue scenes with characters in similar situations, but each trying to find their own way in struggling to develop back into the world. This is seen with Lewis MacKinnon and Sam Jenkins-Shaw in their first meeting since wartime, both playing two sides of nervousness against each other and the search for how to move forward. Phoebe Pryce as Kay and Mara Allen as Mickey, both from a war effort perspective, remind everyone that as well as fighting overseas there was very much a war effort at home and that crucial inroads for the roles of women in the workforce were being made.

The Night Watch by The Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal

Maybe the most emotional journeys of the night strongly played from Louise Coulthard, who as Viv has to deal with getting pregnant from a random encounter, having her brother in prison as a conscientious objector and in a beautiful moment return something valuable to a person that helped her make it out of the Blitz alive. Coulthard offers a strong presence on stage and the fact that by 1947 her character possibly has the most full circle journey out of anyone in the play offers the most hope.

Izabella Urbanowicz and Phoebe Pryce in The Night Watch by The Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal

The set and costume from David Woodhead are first class and really help to capture the spirit and reality of the times they are depicting. The music and sound effects also accentuate the action well and add to the tension of the dramatic moments.

The Night Watch by The Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal

Special mention must go to Izabella Urbanowicz who as Mrs. Leonard delivers two moments of almost narration in the show which are very powerful and could have happily been listened to for an untold amount of time.

Lewis Mackinnon in The Night Watch by The Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal

The one real disappointing aspect of the play itself is that for the second half rather than advancing and moving forward with the threads and developments established before the interval the play spends the entire second hour going back in time thus effectively ending anything that was being put in place before it. As interesting as it is to see characters in a previous state, it adds a slightly plodding feel to proceedings as the play is spending its entire second act just to see how things fell in place for the now unfinished story threads in the first.

The Night Watch by The Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal

It’s interesting to note that one of the taglines for the show’s description is “a poignant portrait of four ordinary people caught up in the aftermath of an extraordinary time”, which for the first half of the play rings true, but rather than continuing to explore the aftermath the play spends the entire second half right back in the extraordinary time which, although interesting in itself, negates the actual premise of the play and what was being built up in the first hour. By going back in time there is essentially no payoff or conclusion to what was built up and the ending more drifts along rather than landing with any real dramatic poignancy or punch.

One thing shows will initially struggle with as this venue attempts to re-establish itself is that the stage auditorium hosts a very large amount of seats which although the numbers in attendance for most fringe venues in London would be quite sufficiently full it will take a lot more to have the same effect in The Ashcroft Playhouse.

Denis Valentine
November 2019

Photography by Mark Douet

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