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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Midnight Movie
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs Winter 2019

To be appreciated more as a technical exercise than for its content, Eve Leigh's new play is a challenge to director, performers and audiences.

Leigh's published script deliberately withholds any clues to performance, not dividing the text up into separate speeches or even indicating how many performers there should be (except for indicating that any number would be 'too many').

She does suggest that one or more actor might be disabled and that some of the words might be delivered through means other than voice.

So it is evidently director Rachel Bagshaw who chose one speaking male performer (Tom Penn) and one silent female performer (Nadia Nadarajah) and assigned lines to them.

Nadarajah delivers hers through a mix of sign language and mime, while Penn speaks his as well as hers. (At times he seems to be translating her signs for our benefit, at others she appears to react in gesture to what he says.)

Meanwhile all the words are also projected onto the back wall of the set as spoken or signed (Note to lighting designer – not always brightly enough to be read legibly), and Penn also occasionally plays a drum kit and/or sings in a countertenor.

The situation we piece together is of one or more feverish insomniacs getting through the night by random surfing of the web, creating a collage of images and half-stories.

A viral video of a woman seeming to fight an invisible foe bumps against a parable of a drunken god and a memory of a night of sex in Berlin. Glimpses of an insidious online game that challenges players to ever-more-dangerous stunts mix with a film noir image of strangers in a car.

If the play does sometimes capture the dreamlike random logic of a racing mind in the sleepless hours, what it adds up to is disappointingly banal and unoriginal.

It can be easier for the isolated to make connections online than in real life. The internet can be dangerous for impressionable young people. While our real bodies are limited and imperfect, created online identities can feel powerful and eternal.

If you feel it takes no ghost come from the grave to tell us this, you can sense the ultimate disappointment of Leigh's play.

Perhaps if she had more successfully evoked the seductive power of the internet, to help us feel how it sucks people into finding it more real than reality, the warnings about its dangers would resonate more. But her characters are not particularly addicted but just using it to fill some sleepless hours, not too enjoyably.

The director deserves credit for carving some coherence out of the text and the two performers for fully-committed immersion in the production style. But you won't be able to escape the sense that there is less here than meets the eye.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Midnight Movie - Royal Court Theatre Upstairs 2019
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