Royal Court Theatre, London – until 21 December 2019
Night can be a time of rest and escape, or mystery and danger where anything can happen. For people with chronic illnesses, vampires lurk in the darkness whilst those around you sleep. In the wee hours of the morning, playwright Eve Leigh seeks refuge online from her pain and corporeal limitations. Whilst it’s all too easy to condemn the downsides of an extremely online lifestyle, Leigh celebrates its ability to fly her around the world when her body lets her down. This millennial fever-dream of memories, horror stories and conspiracy theories blur the real and the internet’s dark corners as two actor/avatars and colour-soaked design convey the realities of a life punctuated by an uncooperative body.
Cecile Tremolieres’ bedroom set has all the markers of a young, trendy couple. Cacti and succulents, a drum kit, kitschy accessories and pink satin bedding cheerfully distract from the script’s montage of ruminations on a woman’s unexplained death in an LA hotel, a god who drank the world dry and dangerous internet games.
Other snippets of dark stories appear too, and they all swirl around each other, grow and fade like variations on a theme in a piece of classical music. The effect is heady and disorientating like a surreal bad dream, yet strangely compelling. However, Leigh takes her time to contextualise this series of initially confusing moments. It’s not until much later than we learn this is the lived experience of someone who is sick and suffers from bouts of pain. This information would be more helpful earlier in the show.
Because Leigh’s body won’t permit her to tell the story herself night after night, actors Tom Penn and Nadia Nadarajah do it for her in spoken English and BSL. Audio description, projected subtitles and a relaxed environment ensure this production is inclusive and accessible. Penn intersperses the piece with live music and song, and Nadarajah’s range of physical expression adds to the production’s sensorial richness.
The script’s concept welcomes voyeurism in the hope that the audience will develop understanding and empathise with those whose health interferes with their day-to-day functions. It also platforms those who struggle with chronic illness and may be largely invisible to society due to their inability to leave the house. Though some earlier signposting would have more quickly clarified quite what it is we are experiencing, the overall effect is one of wonder and hypnosis you can feel at 3 am when, unable to sleep, you reach for your phone.