The Night Watch

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper


THE shadow of St Paul’s hangs over a war-torn London throughout this revival of Hattie Naylor’s adaptation of Sarah Waters’ brooding novel of overlapping lives, brought to life for this current tour by the Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal.

It’s there in 1947, where the story starts with Phoebe Pryce’s rudderless former war-time ambulance worker Kay, wandering the bombed-out London streets in search of old certainties and lost love as the crux of a romantic triangle with Florence Roberts’ Helen and Izabella Urbanowicz’s Julia.

It’s there too as Waters’ story rewinds, first to 1944, then to 1941, both less indifferent times that show how Helen ended up running a dating agency for those attempting to get back to how things were. That was before the first excited flush of her affair with Julia left her in a similar state of decline.

Everybody is bereft in the first half of Alastair Whatley’s production, with both Helen’s assistant Viv and Viv’s brother Duncan attempting to find some kind of salvation by holding on to the past. As they cling to each other for dear life in the emotional crossfire, like St Paul’s, they survive. Like the blitzed houses they once occupied, however, they are empty shells, sleep-walking their way through loveless half-lives in the rubble.

A slow-burning sense of sadness permeates the world conjured up by David Woodhead’s set and the midnight blues of Nic Farman’s lighting, with Whatley’s cast of eight woozily pulsed along by Sophie Cotton’s stately score.

Through the slow unfurling of fractured lives, we see the damage inflicted on a generation whose accidental flight into personal liberation as much as something greater ends up leaving them with nothing once they come blinking into the light.

If things don’t always catch fire here, Naylor’s reimagining of Waters’ story nevertheless lays bare the need to find a reason to live throughout dark times.