REVIEW: The Night Watch (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

The Night Watch at the Royal Exchange until 18th June 2016. © Richard Davenport
The Night Watch at the Royal Exchange until 18th June 2016.
© Richard Davenport

Adapted for the stage by Hattie Naylor, The Night Watch is Sarah Waters’ thrilling novel of the same name. Shortlisted for both the Man Booker and Orange prizes for fiction, the narrative is set against the backdrop of 1940’s London and spirals back from the post-war devastation of 1947 to the Blitz of 1941. 

“People’s pasts are so much more interesting than their futures.”


As the fragmented stories of five people unfold we begin to understand the secrets, regrets and shame that have bound all of them together. With each life intertwined, so skilfully and softly layered, they are all detonated by war, but more so, by love.  

It’s a tricky narrative to present on stage but Naylor cuts right to the chase and avoids any extraneous period detail – the story is presented to us powerfully, each scene juxtaposed perfectly allowing each characters experience to weave smoothly into the next. The fusion of Georgia Lowe’s stark stage design and Rebecca Gatward’s intelligent direction ensures that scene changes and shifts in time are handled beautifully. The sweet and dream-like sound of a piano accompanies the circular movement of the stage as we are transported to another point in time. 

Flooding the stage with soft warm lighting, Elliot Griggs’ lighting design compliments perfectly, transforming an office desk to a summer roof terrace, switching through the darkness of war and devastation to the warm light of love and hope.

With such a pleasingly simple set design, there is absolutely no room for error on stage and the cast deliver a stunningly captivating production. Flawless and intricate, the characters are developed throughout the play – their emotions stripped back as we get to know, and love, them. Led by Jodie McNee, playing the troubled and endearing Kay Langrish, there are no weak links here. Kelly Hotten captures the vulnerability of secretary Helen – wearing her heart on her sleeve, it’s easy to understand her attraction to Julia, the feisty and flamboyant writer played by Lucy Briggs-Owen.

The Night Watch is a gripping adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel – beautifully realised and faultlessly performed.


-Kristy Stott

The Night Watch runs at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until Saturday 18th June 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW – Pomona (The Royal Exchange, Manchester)

Orange Tree Theatre presents in association with the National Theatre and the Royal Exchange Theatre --POMONA--
Orange Tree Theatre presents in association with the National Theatre and the Royal Exchange Theatre

Alastair McDowall’s Pomona was first performed in the round at the Orange Tree Theatre in 2014 before transferring to the National Theatre in 2015. Now, it plays in the main stage at Manchester’s Royal Exchange which is a stone throw away from Pomona island where the play is set.

The play opens with a peculiar parka and pants wearing character called Zeppo giving a comically long-winded account of a famous scene from ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark’ to Ollie, a young woman who is searching for her missing twin sister. With a mouthful of chicken nugget Zeppo (Guy Rhys) tells Ollie (Nadia Clifford) that he owns the whole city but doesn’t get involved with anything and offers the scene from Indiana Jones to highlight why some things should just be left well alone.

Under Ned Bennett’s stylish direction, what follows is a series of scenes leading up to the disappearance of Ollie’s sister. This whole narrative is segmented and does not follow a simple linear structure – it’s more like a jigsaw puzzle which the audience have to try and piece together. Exploring themes around sub-culture, gaming and the sinister underworld, Pomona is a brutal and gritty sci-fi thriller.

Georgia Lowe’s stripped set design complements McDowall’s dark story thread which charts flashbacks to Ollie’s sister meeting Fay (Rebecca Humphries) when she gets a job in a brothel; we also encounter Gale ( Rochenda Sandall) a seemingly powerful presence in the criminal underworld and two security guards Charlie (Sam Swann) and Moe (Sean Rigby). Alongside this we meet squeaky and mouse-like Keaton (Sarah Middleton) who meets with Charlie regularly for a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Sam Swann is particularly impressive as oddball Charlie and provides some very funny moments amidst the hopelessness.

Some theatre goers may find Pomona hard going – there is frequent strong language and the characters inhabit a place which some of the audience may prefer not to visit. As the play progresses the outlook for the characters becomes bleaker and the line between fantasy and reality more blurred. There is a sense of confusion and a lot of questions still remain unanswered by the end of the play. Ultimately, Pomona is a powerful, menacing and intelligent piece of work by Alastair McDowall.

-Kristy Stott

Pomona is running at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until Sunday 21 November 2015.

REVIEW – Yen (Royal Exchange)

Date: 19 february 2015
Upstaged rating: 

Just as the submission window opens for The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting 2015 – Manchester receives the world premiere of the 2013 winning entry written by Anna Jordan.

Yen is the tale of two neglected teenage brothers, Hench, 16 and Bobbie, 13. They live alone with their dog, Taliban who spends his days locked in their old bedroom because he once ‘bit someone on the estate’. Sometimes their alcoholic and diabetic mum descends on them, usually when she wants something, but they don’t get along with ‘minge-face Alan’ the man that she has shacked up with. The two brothers spend most of their days playing Call of Duty, watching pornography and drinking and smoking whatever they have managed to get their hands on. Hench (Alex Austin) dropped out of school and Bobbie (Jake Davies) has ADHD and quit his place at ‘The Unit’.

The two brothers have no ambition, no hope, they share a sofa bed and a t-shirt that they nicked from the charity shop. It is a well carved out, well layered story of lost childhood, love and violence – it is a commentary on the state of society.

But, it is not only this – Yen is vivid, it gets right under your skin, it is unsettling, but in a brilliant way. Anna Jordan’s writing is witty and terse, the dialogue is filthy but hilarious. It is amazing that a play which was based on a local news story about two neglected and abandoned brothers who commit a heinous crime, can produce such laughs from the audience, but it does.

All four members of the cast give remarkable performances during their debut appearances at the Royal Exchange Theatre. The two brothers Hench and Bobbie are loaded with testosterone, reminding us of caged monkeys as we take our seats in the studio, they climb the scaffolding and swing from ropes, making the most of Georgia Lowe‘s sparce but highly effective set design.

The energy between the two brothers is quite profound, tousling with each other constantly, Bobbie is loud mouthed and vulgar with a deep attachment to his hopeless mother (Sian Breckin) while Hench seems shy, suspicious and afraid of the outside world. When Jenny (Annes Elwy) barges into their flat venting concern for Taliban’s welfare, Hench is given a small glint of the world outside and a small window of hope and love.

By the end of the play my mind was doing somersaults, the characters were racing around in my head, they had stuck. Rather like Ned Bennett‘s clever cyclical direction, Hench and Bobby were trapped in a system and a way of life.

Anna Jordan’s Yen is phenomenal. It is no wonder that it won The Bruntwood Prize in 2013. Get a ticket while you still can.

Yen is running until the 7th March 2015 in The Studio at the Royal Exchange, Manchester

-Kristy Stott