The Night Watch at Royal Exchange: Review

Based on Sarah Water’s much praised fourth novel, published in 2006, The Night Watch takes us on an exploration of love, loneliness, sexuality and desolation set against the backdrop of wartime and post-World War II London.


Adapted by Hattie Naylor, events are set over a six year period and as with Water’s novel are told in reverse chronological order, 1947 precedes 1944 which precedes 1941. The small cast of eight play out separate stories which through tangled connections of war intertwine and overlap. Each character holding secrets of their own private hurt and perceived reasons of shame.

Central to the piece is Kay, (Jodie McNee), thoughtful, poised and poetic, yet broken and beaten by war, the sadness and lack of connection she displays with her post-war life is beautifully portrayed and reinforces the dislocation and disorder of life after war when for many a sense of purpose and structure had disappeared. Kay is damaged, disabled by the past and unable to move on, confessing to friend Mickey, “…the rubble has all my life in it still”.

Director Rebecca Gatward directs her cast in the Exchange’s in the round setting beautifully, complimented by Georgia Lowe’s set which is sparse but striking. The stage is slightly raised with two slowly revolving circles, one outer and one inner gently moving in opposite directions which allows the characters to clearly separate yet always return and cross over again, reflecting the interconnecting events that continue to bring them together.

Each individual cast member gives a fine and utterly absorbing performance, the change in Kay (Jodie McNee) particularly from start to finish is almost heart-breaking, significantly the final scene gives us the clearest indication into whom she was before, positive, strong and confident, the complete opposite of whom she becomes. Thalissa Teixeira is exceptional as Viv, her highs and lows are delicately unpicked with special mention also going to Lucy Briggs-Owen who takes on her two roles, Julie and Mrs Leonard with sass.

The reverse timeline makes for a hugely compelling production, by the end of part one I was desperate to retake my seat and find out what had happened to these traumatised souls, who were they before and what had damaged them so significantly? Act two pieced together the various events that resulted in the permanently changed characters and events of part one became all the more poignant.

The Night Watch is utterly compelling, thought-provoking and hugely powerful, a must-see.

Showing at Royal Exchange until 18th June



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