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The Night Watch at Royal Exchange - Review

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
Im a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. My debut poetry pamphlet is available at
Event: -
Emotional air raids
To call The Night Watch a wartime drama would be a slight misnomer, especially in its first half. Before the interval, this adaptation of Sarah Waters' novel by Hattie Naylor, focuses on the post-war struggles and relationships of its characters in the context of society's attitude to homosexuality and conscientious objection. They are searching in the rubble, to find out if their lives will return to what they were before the outbreak of conflict or if they are forever altered. "I miss the war, how do we find purpose?" former ambulance driver, Kay (Jodie McNee), asks.

Night Watch Royal Exchange theatre
Jodie McNee as Kay Langrish

The first half has an episodic structure, which is nonetheless effective. We, the audience, are like investigators, piecing together clues as to what has gone before and what emotional baggage the characters carry and share.

There is a nice balance of moods, ranging from the delicacy of the interaction between former cellmates Robert (Ben Addis) and Duncan (Joe Jameson), to the light-touch sinister performance by Lucy Briggs-Owen as Mrs Leonard, a Christian Science doctor, to the comedic fluster of office manager, Mr Wilson (Christopher Ettridge).

Night Watch Royal Exchange theatre
Joe Jameson as Duncan Pearce and Ben Addis as Robert Fraser

The outer circle of the set, designed by Georgia Lowe, revolves, which both addresses the sight lines issue of a theatre-in-the-round, like the Royal Exchange, and also acts as a visual metaphor for the way that the characters' are in flux.

The second half of the production is more immediately dramatic in that we are in wartime and the Blitz itself, with all its flashing lights and blackouts. The ever-present danger either leads lovers to be more adventurous or makes other characters anxious about the fate of loved ones.

There is one stand out scene where Kay delivers an intense monologue during an air raid. However, overall, I felt that the second half was less successful in making the jump from page to stage. I was wishing I had read the novel in advance, so that I was more clued-up on how everything fitted together.

Having said that, even if all this production, directed by Rebecca Gatward, were to achieve, was to take us back to the novel, then that would be no bad thing in itself.

 Night Watch Royal Exchange theatre
Lucy Briggs-Owen as Julia Standing

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Why? World premiere of stage adaptation of novel shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
Phone: 0161 833 9833
Where: Royal Exchange, Manchester
Cost: From 10
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