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THEATRE REVIEW - Three More Sleepless Nights, National Theatre

Some say that you only really know who you are when you’re lying awake in the small hours. That is perhaps less true now than it was in 1980 when Caryl Churchill’s playlet Three Sleepless Nights was first performed. In 1980 there was no internet, no 24 hour TV and far fewer distractions from the demons that only come out at night.
THEATRE REVIEW - Three More Sleepless Nights, National Theatre
Some say that you only really know who you are when you’re lying awake in the small hours. That is perhaps less true now than it was in 1980 when Caryl Churchill’s playlet Three Sleepless Nights – currently in the Lyttleton at the National Theatre – was first performed. In 1980 there was no internet, no 24 hour TV and far fewer distractions from the demons that only come out at night. The play, as its title suggests, charts three separate sleepless nights in the lives of its 4 characters. It is only about 40 minutes long but, during that time, marriages crumble, suicide is attempted, hope is both kindled and extinguished and you find out that the secrets of the universe are contained within the plot of Alien. The acting is uniformly excellent. Churchill’s overlapping dialogue, with its deliberately disconnected rhythms, is difficult to deliver with precision but not a syllable is lost in Gareth Machin’s water tight production. It would obviously not be feasible to stage such a short play ‘on its own,’ so designer Naomi Dawson has made use of the huge Phedre set on the Lyttleton stage: all three scenes take place in the same double bed in front of a vast nothingness made still larger by clever use of perspective in the placing of the Phedre flats. The dreamlike effect serves to underline the late night loneliness but does not detract from the humour. Since the 17th century, when performances began to move indoors, theatres – like bedrooms – have been dark, enclosed spaces at the mercy of the imagination of the people inside them. It is easy to imagine how long a thoroughly enjoyable 40 minutes at the National would feel if you were spending it lying awake.

David Trennery

Tuesday 18 August, 2009

About the author

David Trennery is a free-lance writer.