There is something about the mysteriousness of the past, that makes the historical novel a perfect base to bring our imagination to life on the stage. And sometimes we should just accept, that the best re-enactments of the past are perhaps just because they take place in our imagination.
Hattie Naylor's theatre adaptation of Sarah Water's novel The Night Watch draws a fine line between artistic freedom to diverge from the original novel to make it truly viable for a different from of media, and following the original script of the book as if it were the bible. Leaving it up to a magnificent creative team, in particular Nic Farman (Lighting Designer) and Max Pappenheim (Sound Designer) to skilfully transport the audience's view (and attention) from their day-to-day life to the realities of a post-war Britain.
With a flickering and buzzing, it seems as if all the fuses in the theatre hall have given up the ghost. The year is 1947. Through the guiding beams of searchlights and lamps, the viewer is left to frantically search for these ghosts in order to regain illumination. The first part of the play starts off with a loose introduction of the five main characters, although their relation to each other is quite clumsily stated, it is their interconnectedness that leaves the viewer wondering what the story is heading towards.
Dialogue follows upon dry dialogue and although Florence Roberts (Helen) and Phoebe Pryce (Kay) deliver their lines with a wealth of physical emotion and power, they do not seem to be able to drag the lines out of their stiff form and transform the script in a genuine real conversation. The beautiful set, created by David Woodhead, became a distraction, as it was constantly rearranged. Though the scenes transit smoothly into each other, some repetitions which might work more easily in a novel (keeping in mind the longer reading time), in the play reach a point where it becomes a bit of overstating and the scene therefore too long.
What could have been a very recognisable cute caption of pure birthday bliss with your partner's presence and present, turns into a bit tacky, cheesy, and almost unbearably embarrassing lovers' play. A depiction of lesbian love in times where traditional roles where inverted yet social taboos stayed hidden, apparently means our main characters are slightly obsessed with each other, and when they lose one another they appear to lose it all. Especially the overt focus on the women's relationships with each other, makes it at times hard to discern who is in love with who, was in love with who, and who actually is who?
Unfortunately for the original novel, the topics set up in the first half of the play – an exploration of the treatment of 'pain', loss of loved ones, nostalgia for the war – are overshadowed by a Nicholas Spark's like intricate portrayal of the difficulties of love and relationship. Ironically, the play has made me eager to turn back to the pages of Sarah Water's novel which was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, and let my imagination travel back to the past which seems indeed, more interesting than its future.
The Night Watch runs at King's Theatre until 19 October 2019.