Theatre is an adventure, where we have to some times take risks and dive in the deep end. I had some spare time, chose the National Theatre and got the cheapest seat possible. I landed up at Three More Sleepless Nights a short three act play by none other than Caryl Churchill. As it happens Churchill was one of the only female playwrights I studied at University so it was finally good to sit down and watch one of her plays (or rather not to sit through another male driven performance).
I knew nothing of the play, so it was a gamble… the question is: did the gamble pay off?
I was slightly disappointed when I walked into the Lyttleton Theatre (generally a nice space) to find that little had been done to make this production remotely stand away from the backdrop of Phedre which plays after Three More Sleepless Nights. As I mentioned in my Phedre Review the set is fantastic so at least make a decent effort on covering it up. The half attempted design of Noami Dawson failed short for me. Creating the shape of a room defined by door frames and skirting boards is rather pitiful against the epic, yes epic backdrop of Phedre…
The play itself is rather absurd, three scenes each featuring a different couple, each in bed. Not a glimmer of sexual suggestions nor movements in sight, but rather the bare exposure of human relationships strained. Churchill achieves this in an interesting manner. The first couple, played rather violently (verbal, not quite physical) by Lindsey Coulson and Ian Hart portrays a hateful relationship where shouting seems to be the only manner of communication. Lines often got lost when the overlapping of text and screaming merged together, but this really did not matter. At first it was irrating, I’m one for hearing everything, but actually it’s all rather clever in the grand scheme of things.
The second couple played by Hattie Morahan and Paul Ready are quite the flip side of the screaming and shouting. An eerie silence falls upon the theatre, and every so often a groan emerges from the actors. This seems to be the communication for the best part of 5 minutes, until odd lines are delivered. This is certainly Churchill in her most absurdest manner. (Not that I think she falls into this category at all but there certainly is something absurd about this part of the play.) Accelerating some several minutes later, and there are more pauses, odd lines, film quotes and heaven knows what else. We’re left with questions, questions, and questions. These are quickly answered when the couple finally go to bed and XX takes a knife and stabs herself, unknown to her partner. She bleeds onto the bed with fantastically realistic blood… and lights down.
This short play is about snapshots of peoples relationships, a glimmer into their lives and a sudden cutting off… it is strangely captivating. There are distinct moments where you can’t help but to relate to previous bed-time moments with previous lovers, over previous arguments now gone stale and old. I caught myself smiling when I recalled similar moments in my life.
So did my gamble pay off? I guess it did for a short 50 minute production. Whilst Three More Sleepless Nights is enjoyable, it filled a small gap in my schedule and proved interesting… but don’t expect a masterpiece, nor expect Churchill at her best.
Still it makes a change for the National Theatre to be showing these 6pm short performances, and my insiders tell me there are a whole line up to follow over the next few months… I just wonder how they intend to fill the seats without having to resort to giving them away…