Photos: Mark Douet
I haven't read The Night Watch, by number one best-selling author Sarah Waters. But I've said it before and I'll say it again: it should not be necessary to have read a book to appreciate a stage adaptation. Just think how brilliantly Les Mis and War Horse work on stage, but I wonder how many audience devotees have read the books.
Hattie Naylor's stage adaptation of The Night Watch succeeds only in part.
Set round the second world war, it works its way ramblingly backwards from 1947 via 1944 to 1941 to trace the inter-twined relationships of the characters: in particular three women who form a lesbian love triangle and a young man with a haunted past.
Of course lesbianism is as old as time, but was not generally accepted in polite company seventy-plus years ago so the friendships are secretive though lovingly portrayed, while other taboo topics are touched on but never explored.
For instance, two men are in prison: one it seems for attempted suicide and the other for being a conscientious objector. But it's more hinted at than explained, while another girl is found bleeding during an air-raid...though not as a result of any injury attributable to Hitler's bombs. Major characters are not given enough detail to make us care and why some of the other smaller characters have been included remains a mystery.
This is all a bit niche and the device of going back in time is not the most accessible way to get people to engage with characters who are not finely drawn enough to provoke much interest.
The pieces of the jigsaw fall into place painfully slowly and stories are never fully explored, leaving trailing and untied threads and unanswered questions.
The end took me by surprise and judging by the looks on the faces of some of the teeny weeny Monday night audience it did so for quite a few of them too!
The cast do what they can with sometimes stodgy lines, though the doubling up added to my confusion. I particularly liked Sam Jenkins-Shaw as the vigorous Robert Fraser and rather nice Welsh ambulance operative Cole. Izabella Urbanowicz's Julia is also a breath of fresh air.
The production tries hard to be atmospheric and that aspect is pretty successful, with the set featuring the skeleton of a bombed-out house and piles of rubble bathed for much of the time in subdued lighting. The Blitz effects work well.
I do hope this venue starts getting more mainstream productions to win back audiences which have fallen away during its three year closure because plays like this one are not right for the Ashcroft at the present time.