Friday 12 February 2016

In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises) – Gate, London

[seen 08/02/16]

It’s a funny thing. I can imagine a time, relatively recently, when I might have found Ben Kidd’s neat production of Nina Segal’s debut poetic text-for-theatre really exciting. Maybe even revelatory. It’s interesting to think about what might have changed since that time.

Theatrically, the piece is reminiscent of Third Angel’s Presumption, which I saw in 2007 – Chris Thorpe and Lucy Ellinson drowing in a sea of Ikea, before we’d even really thought about “German” as a word to describe a set. Thematically, it bears some resemblance to Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs – a young couple are going to have a baby while the world explodes, and burns, and runs out around them. Without those two key precedents, would I have been more gripped?

There’s also the fact that I’ve got older. And there’s no getting away from the fact that most of my peers seem to have survived having babies. So that level of revelation and/or learning just isn’t there for me as it might be for younger audiences. The key action of the play is essentially spread over one night, where the two performers narrate their characters through a maelstrom of incessant crying, frayed nerves, into some kind of vision of an apocalypse and out the other side.

Yes, it rings true. Babies do cry, and are hard work. But it also feels maybe a bit solipsistic to invoke something akin to the destruction of civilian homes in, say, Gaza or Syria, just because your baby won’t sleep. But, like Kane before her, Segal suggests a level of connection that can’t be ignored so easily. Sure, at the level of personal discomfort, there’s no comparison. But, by naively invoking the questions “Why are there wars?” and, “Why are the world’s resources running out?” Segal – perhaps unintentionally – presents the very real answer: because everyone wants the best for their child (and because everyone insists on having as many children as they feel like). Viewed in this light, the play offers a fine, bleak portrait of a world gradually falling to pieces, and doomed by love, of all things.

Kidd’s production is great, really. At the start, the excellent performers (Adele Leonce and Alex Waldemann, who we already knew were both brilliant, but it’s nice to be reminded) tear out of a thin membrane of luggage wrap, holding all their possessions-to-come. Their empty, rented flat – an empty steel frame describes precious little low-ceilinged space – is rapidly assembled, filled, and trashed, leaving a rubbish-strewn floor. The lighting is also kind of brilliant – ranks and ranks of hanging downlights in close proximity to the performers heads  – and the sound design really deserves to win several awards...

So, I should be out dancing in the street about this, right?

And I’m not. Which is stupid. It’s really, really well-made theatre. But somewhere, perhaps between the marriage of script (with it’s ultimate smallness of scope) and production (lacking the killer panache for art, or incision) and maybe a bit too much lenience with the dramaturg’s red biro (there are about ten lines – borrowed straight from the big book of terrible undergraduate poetry – that should just be cut), something happens that means while it’s an entirely “commendable” exercise, it’s hard to think to whom one would *re*commend it.


The piece ends with The The’s chirpy alt.pop classic This is the Day, but this terrible, insane song by Death in June has the same title as the play and it wouldn’t quite go away every time I thought of it.

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