The Night Watch @ King's Theatre, Edinburgh

The Night Watch is a spirited production with some stellar performances, but a confused first half lets it down

Review by Dominic Corr | 23 Oct 2019
  • The Night Watch @ King's Theatre, Edinburgh

A looming presence pervades Hattie Naylor’s adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel The Night Watch. Interlacing stories of strangers, lovers and chance encounters are cast in the darkness of the Blitz. These shattered lives attempt to hold what pieces they have together, tripping over one another as the narratives overlap. It isn’t until we take a jaunt into the past that we grasp the full picture.

The Night Watch opens in 1947, post-WWII, but something seems off. The first act suffers as a result, as the audience are compelled to join dots and connections for which we have no reference point. Act two takes us three years into the past, unveiling a fuller picture and lifting the piece as a whole. 

Alastair Whatley directs a largely accomplished cast, especially the three female leads. Florence Roberts as Helen is a character who teeters on the edge of reality – envious, coy but all the while relatable. Roberts captures a genuine relationship with both Phoebe Pryce’s Kay and Izabella Urbanowicz’s Julia. Pryce is arguably the production's catalyst: her control on stage is excellent.

Kay's relationships with both Helen and Julia – taboo at the time – are central to the text’s strength, but the production refrains from making depictions of gay relationships a cheap spectacle. Handled with care and honesty, Pryce and Roberts have immediate chemistry. Lewis Mackinnon’s Duncan is at first understated, but after discovering the extent of his boyfriend's suffering, his cries of loss cement his portrayal of the character.

The deep blues of Nic Farman’s lighting highlight the torn bricks and mortar of David Woodhead’s design work, lending a melancholy feel to the show's atmosphere. Ultimately, though, there’s smoke without much fire to behold in The Night Watch – a few choice performances offer sparks of interest, but passionate characterisation alone cannot fully ignite the production.

Run ended