Sarah Waters’ 2006 novel The Night Watch, about interweaving second world war-era lesbian relationships, has been faithfully adapted for the stage by Hattie Naylor. But in trying to be loyal to both the book’s reverse chronologically and multitude of characters, the central narrative is lost among many disparate threads.
It’s 1947. Phoebe Pryce plays Kay, a withdrawn woman who is a little lost without her former lover and the excitement of wartime. Then we delve into her youthful past – meeting each of the 12 characters (played by eight actors).
The portraits of lesbian relationships, heightened by the trials of war, are believably, beautifully drawn. Some plot lines lead nowhere – allusions to the evilness of Mr Mundy, an office boss and former prison guard, prove unfounded and a mystical Christian Science healer brought to heal Mundy’s arthritis serve little purpose.
Lighting by Nic Farman is subtly multi-layered and ominous, with gaslights, searchlights, fire and utilitarian factory lamps. The set by designer David Woodhead is delightfully austere, with a ghostly Victorian house sketched out onto a scaffold and moveable piles of shrapnel ever-present.
The second half is an adrenalised romp through the Blitz – bombings, bleak prison conditions, illegal abortion, heat-of the moment romance; it’s all packed in.
It’s difficult not to compare with The Fishermen, currently at Trafalgar Studios, which successfully consolidates Chigozie Obioma’s vast multi-generational saga into a taut 70 minutes, performed by just two actors. A more assured focus on Kay’s central drama might have anchored this narrative more.