The Night Watch that is currently running at King’s Theatre is Hattie Naylor’s stage adaptation of the novel written by Sarah Waters. The play originally premiered at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, in 2016 and has been revived by The Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal. Beginning in 1947 and ending in 1941, we retrospectively follow several characters and their interconnections in wartime London.
First we meet Kay, who is initially despondent and withdrawn from society. There is also Helen and Viv, who work together in a dating agency. Helen is anxious to hear from her roommate and lover, Julia, whilst Viv hopes to meet a stranger who did her a great favour during the war. Lastly, there is Duncan, Viv’s brother, who works in a candle factory and has little contact with his family.
As the drama unfolds, we discover these four main characters are much more intertwined than it would first appear. In fact, often two scenes are played out at once, with one ending just as the other begins. This is an interesting style, particularly as Kay may begin to talk about Helen, whilst Helen remains on stage, bringing another conversation to a close.
However, the chronologically reversed plot of the play is a little confounding at first. We observe characters, who can talk so familiarly to and about each other, but are unknown to the audience. Perhaps, this is intentional; the audience must sift through the debris of war in order to piece together the haunted figures before them, much like members of the night watch.
Unfortunately, this conceit detracts somewhat from the intimacy one might hope to gain with the characters. The usual development of fondness and empathy is diminished by the need to retain the small titbits of information that are sporadically slipped into conversation. With multiple characters to follow, each with their own issues deserving of attention, it seems ambitious to retain the added complication of an irregular timeline.
Nevertheless, David Woodhead should receive recognition for his beautiful set, which works harmoniously with the sultry lighting that accents the evening backdrops. In particular, I like the skeletal frame of the house that almost appears to be a full building against the dark evening sky. Though once the bombs start to fall, the embers of blasted wreckage pierce through in an amber glow and we see only the burnt-out structure of what was once a home.
It is also refreshing to see LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream theatre, particularly as it is not a central plot point but a simple reality. Such ordinariness is important not only in the modern stories we tell, but also when recalling tales from times when any deviation from heterosexual and cissexual norms was forbidden.
Ultimately, The Night Watch brings to life previously untold perspectives of those occupying the more remote corners of a conventional society. Regrettably, however, this is done at the expense of any real depth to the individual stories told. As such, this stage adaptation overreaches itself by attempting to cover several complex stories at once, rather than allowing each character the time and space they deserve.
PHOTOS: Mark Douet