Royal Exchange, Manchester – until 18 June 2016
Adapted for the stage by Hattie Naylor, The Night Watch is Sarah Waters’ thrilling novel of the same name. Shortlisted for both the Man Booker and Orange prizes for fiction, the narrative is set against the backdrop of 1940’s London and spirals back from the post-war devastation of 1947 to the Blitz of 1941.
As the fragmented stories of five people unfold, we begin to understand the secrets, regrets and shame that have bound all of them together. With each life intertwined, so skilfully and softly layered, they are all detonated by war, but more so, by love.
It’s a tricky narrative to present on stage, but Naylor cuts right to the chase and avoids any extraneous period detail – the story is presented to us powerfully, each scene juxtaposed perfectly allowing each character experience to weave smoothly into the next. The fusion of Georgia Lowe’s stark stage design and Rebecca Gatward’s intelligent direction ensures that scene changes and shifts in time are handled beautifully. The sweet and dream-like sound of a piano accompanies the circular movement of the stage as we are transported to another point in time.
Flooding the stage with soft warm lighting, Elliot Griggs’ lighting design compliments perfectly, transforming an office desk to a summer roof terrace perfectly, switching through the darkness of war and devastation to the warm light of love and hope.
With such a pleasingly simple set design, there is absolutely no room for error on stage and the cast deliver a stunningly captivating production. Flawless and intricate, the characters are developed throughout the play – their emotions stripped back as we get to know, and love, them. Led by Jodie McNee, playing the troubled and endearing Kay Langrish, there are no weak links here. Kelly Hotten captures the vulnerability of secretary Helen – wearing her heart on her sleeve, it’s easy to understand her attraction to Julia, the feisty and flamboyant writer played by Lucy Briggs-Owen.
The Night Watch is a gripping adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel – beautifully realised and faultlessly performed.