The Papatango New Writing Competition has been running since 2009 and has the express aim of bringing new writing to the stage, this year receiving more than 600 entries from around the UK. Teaming up with the Finborough Theatre could not be a more perfect match, as the theatre is renowned across London not only as one of the finest fringe theatres but as one of the finest places to see new writing talent come to the fore. Through the Night was one of the three runners up in the 2011 competition and won a week’s run at the theatre alongside the overall winner, Foxfinder.
Through the Night is a short one-hour play about the possibly disturbing events of a single night and how stories can be spread and fears can be preyed upon. A seemingly secure middle-class family is threatened by the possibility of their son being involved in a fight that led to another boy’s death, a story they heard from one of their closest family friends and her daughter, born at the same time as their own son. As sure as they seem that their son wasn’t where she says he might have been (at the fight) their insecurities are drawn out by a mixture of coincidence and calculation.
The play itself suffered from a few issues. Firstly, a lot of the script is someone talking at someone else while they sit or stand and either listen or don’t, it seems to make almost no difference at all to the plot. What this does is create a very low energy level and a feeling of monotony. I felt as if the play lasted almost twice as long as it did, which really isn’t a good sign for an hour-long show. Secondly, it wasn’t particularly engaging. There were no twists in the plot, no brutal revelations but only insinuation and supposition. This is all well and good, and I think appropriate for the play, but there needs to be more character development for us to empathise with them. I’m not sure that a lack of such development can be pinned on the shortness of the play itself and had hoped for more.
The set is a configured in a triangular shape with the audience seated around three sides. This is not in itself a bad thing but the blocking doesn’t do very well with it. A few times I lost the majority of a scene because I was looking at people’s backs and was unable to see any faces, particularly towards the end.
The only member of the cast that created a character that seemed to be coherent and complete was Steven Elder as the father, Michael. He was constantly rational and powerful, keeping the action under his control and looking at home on the stage. When he loses his temper you do feel the power of his physicality, even if the stage violence is almost embarrassingly poor. When he was on stage it was clear that he was the figure in command and the women and children bowed to his confident demeanor, as did the audience.
The same cannot be said of Terri Dwyer and Jan Shepherd. Dwyer’s character is weak and insecure, having relied heavily on Shepherd’s character while struggling through sixteen years of parenting. Over these years she has grown jealous of her and how well she is doing while she struggles in the apparent background. Her character appears quite flighty and I didn’t entirely understand the motivation for a few of her actions, apparently coming from nowhere without earlier hints, which is all the script would have needed to give. She played the opening scene magnificently but trailed off after that.
Along with Dwyer, Shepherd was most guilty of line slips and although she never stopped and started again a few stumbles were very obvious. Her character was more fully formed than Dwyer’s but much of what she was trying to say throughout the play, particularly in the limp final scene, felt more like the author trying to make a point than the character needing to say something and as a result she irritates more than instructs, which is what this play is trying to do.
It’s a decent script with a decent cast but bearing in mind it’s at a fantastic venue and beat out around 600 other scripts to be in this position, I can honestly say I was expecting better. The direction was half-hearted and the script too one-dimensional and preachy to actually convey any real message.
Written by Matt Morrison; Directed by Matt Grinter; At the Finborough Theatre; Starring Terri Dwyer, Steven Elder, Jan Shepherd, Liam Smith, Nadia Giscir, Jack Johns; Runs from 6 December 11 - 11 December 11.
John Ord (7/12/11)