“History is freedom, history is imprisonment,” says one character in Blitz Theatre Group and Nikos Flessas’s surreal play Late Night, which excavates longings born from memories – whether they be a return to communism or a past sexual relationship. The intermittent fragments of conversation that are spoken in Late Night are mainly spoken in Greek, Blitz Theatre Group’s native language, with English surtitles projected onto the wall behind the stage. However, many scenes pass without a single word as the characters dance a monotonous waltz that never takes off, or sit in silence facing the audience whilst waiting for someone or something that never materialises. Ultimately, Late Night explores what it means to live through the end of an era.
A large proportion of Late Night involves the six actors, dressed in Vassilia Rozana’s elegant 1940s costumes, ballroom dancing with deadpan expressions. Choreographed beautifully by Yannis Nikolaidis and set to powerful arrangements of classical waltzes, the characters dance then pause disconcertingly, never quite looking at one another, before beginning again. One by one these performers – whose character names are in fact their own – gravitate towards a lone microphone, where they confess a memory or comment on what another character is thinking internally whilst performing entirely unrelated actions, in a style that evokes French cinema. As we get further into the play they each begin to throw themselves at the microphone, relishing in this opportunity for free speech. Historical and geographical references root each character’s story to a time and place, and we flit from the fall of Novi Sad to the terror attacks in Paris last November, whilst Greece in its current financial crisis remains the play’s more permanent backdrop. As the memories become darker and cloudier, the graceful waltz taking place elsewhere on the stage becomes more of a jarring struggle, representing the characters’ fight to make sense of “this contemporary confusion called late capitalism”. Efi Birba’s eerie set design of destruction, with rubble framing all four sides of the carpeted stage, suits the atmosphere of Late Night perfectly.
The company describe their play as having the “otherworldly feel of a David Lynch film”, which seems most true in the bizarre and unsettling scene in which the actors take it in turns to perform a series of unimpressive tricks, to which they receive applause from the other cast members whilst bowing to the silent, unapplauding audience in front of them – using us as a tool to feed the surrealism of the sequence. The later scene in which the actors dance like robots to Chinawoman’s ‘Lovers Are Strangers’ also seems straight out of a Lynch film.
At 90 minutes, Late Night is too long, and the lack of sexual diversity portrayed through having the six performers coupled into three heterosexual couples throughout the entire play is a frustrating decision. If the drawn-out moments in which the cast sit in silence facing the audience or waltz across the stage were cut to make the piece an hour, the feeling of waiting and living through a seemingly never-ending war would still be captured. Nevertheless, Blitz Theatre Group have a cast of strong performers who work in sync with one another to build the collective feeling of uncertainty and longing that Late Night conjures. “I don’t know if I lost you because everything collapsed, or if everything collapsed because I lost you,” says one performer, in a moment that speaks for the play’s intertwining themes of love, memory and the fall of communism.
Late Night played at the Barbican Centre until 18 June as part of Lift 2016. For more information, see the Barbican website. Photo: Vassilis Makris