[THEATRE/Social Change ~ AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE ~ UK]
The Arch at Holden Street Theatres, Tue 18 Feb.
Anyone who has been following the Henry Naylor plays presented in recent years at the Adelaide Fringe will know something of what to expect this time: a small cast (usually no more than two), dialogue consisting of alternating monologues rather than conversation, minimalist stage setting, and some challenging themes that ask you to question the core of your beliefs.
As usual, the performances are compelling. Aoife Lennon as the young journalist Carter, and Nicholas Boulton as Kane, an Iraq veteran, are impressive and believable. They have been given difficult roles to perform and they succeed brilliantly. And the writing! At times I find myself stopping to marvel at the quality of Naylor’s writing.
One of Naylor’s perennial themes, that life is complicated and we shouldn’t leap to obvious conclusions, is to the forefront in The Nights. Cain’s lack of sympathy for the fate of Jihadi bride Shamina Begum stems from the beheading of her journalist mentor James Foley. So it’s not surprising. And yet as she learns more about what happened in Iraq she finds her position shifting. She believes Kane to be an absolute hero, but Kane’s violent war experiences have not brought him any glory.
In Naylor’s previous plays he always found moments of humour amid some pretty desperate situations. [He can claim an impressive history of writing comedy.] There were fewer jokes in The Nights, which make it feel angrier than previous efforts, even though they all contain issues for us to get angry about.
And Naylor’s previous protagonists were always slightly out of the ordinary – a modern Jihadi woman dressed in plain black, complete with hijab, contrasted with a pale English woman in white Victorian dress living 175 years earlier, a female sniper from Syria, a female graffiti artist and a shallow male photographer who has met Osama Bin Laden but would rather take the money from celebrity photoshoots, and two female Jewish athletes competing in the 1936 Olympic Games. This time it’s an Islamophobic journalist working for the tabloid press and an Iraq veteran who understands he’s more war criminal than hero. These characters feel a little more familiar and pedestrian.
That said, their stories are real and relevant. Henry Naylor always delivers challenging theatre worth the cost of the ticket. If you’re up for it, you should definitely include this play in your Fringe itinerary.
The Nights by Henry Naylor continues at The Arch at Holden Street Theatres, at various times, until Sun 15 Mar.
Book at FringeTIX on 1300 621 255 or adelaidefringe.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Images courtesy of Rosalind Furlong