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14.9.94
Three More Sleepless Nights
Etcetera Theatre

Before watching Fifth Column Theatre Company’s production of one of Caryl Churchill’s short plays, I never realised that the phrase ‘a real nightmare’ is, in fact, an oxymoron. Perhaps my realisation was due in part to the tone of Churchill’s three domestic sequences, dreamlike but firmly rooted in the grimmest reality. It was certainly crystallised by the emotionally direct performances of the company, appearing for the first time in London. Each of the sleepless nights into which the play is divided is undeniably a nightmare, but, equally undeniably, the bad dream will be just as real, and as present, in the morning.

Initially there would seem to be nothing out of the ordinary. Set in 1980 in Thatcher’s notoriously self-centered Britain, the play opens in Margaret and Frank’s bedroom, where they argue over the usual marital bugbears - her nagging, his infidelities. As the scene progresses, though, it becomes clear that, whatever their feelings of affection may be for each other, their feelings of appropriation are stronger. Each regards the other as personal property in an emotional distortion of the Thatcherite ideal, and it is on this point, above all others, that their relationship founders.
Margaret and Frank are so busy trying to possess one another that they make it impossible for either one of them to be totally self possessed.

Dawn, meanwhile, has become so negated by her role as Pete’s wife that, in the second sequence, we see her doubting her own existence. Pete, while acutely aware that a lot is wrong, is too terrified to face the truth, continually blotting it out - with horrific consequences for Dawn. It is this inability of human beings to make each other really happy, to allow each-other the space and freedom to be what they can and should be, that lies at the heart of this play, and the issue reaches its apotheosis on the third night. It is the real and inescapable nightmare that haunts all our social inter-action, and this production brings it, like Frankenstein’s monster, to powerful and grisly life.

Jemma and Lisa Curry’s set is a splintered segment of Suburbia, with tattered strips of wallpaper interspersed with the ironic graffiti ‘Brave New World’. All the performances are absorbing and Rob Curry’s direction twists unerringly between each wry witticism and the wry wince which is never far behind. It’s a beautifully crafted examination of the almost unbearably bleak landscape that we all inhabit. (See Fringe)
Julia Morrow
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