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The Theatreguide.London Review

Gate Theatre      Spring 2009

In Juan Mayorga's 2004 drama a mousy, vaguely creepy little man learns a damaging secret about a neighbour and uses it to blackmail him, not for money, but for the external trappings of friendship - hanging out, chatting, etc.

The victim's wife is creeped out by the guy, and the blackmailer's own wife is beaten down into nonentity, insomnia and addiction to an all-night television phone-in show.

There are some plot twists, but essentially the main effect is an awareness of how insecure and needy everyone is, of how anyone and everyone is capable of cruelties and betrayals, and of how intimate, insidious and ubiquitous oppression and the invasion of selfhood are.

That vaguely Pinteresque observation has been made more clearly and evocatively by others, but Mayorga's version still has some of the intended power to chill, despite some awkwardness and infelicities in the telling.

A pattern of abrupt shifts in mood or writing style may be the fault of translator David Johnston or of the fact, noted in the published text, that Mayorga was fiddling with the script right up to the last moment - but they give the effect of gaps or jump cuts in the dialogue.

The play is full of stray symbols - foxes and hedgehogs, zoo animals, fish, astrology, electricity - that are clearly meant to carry some meaning or emotional effect, but don't.

And the appearances of the phone-in show host that punctuate each scene (more frequently than in the printed text), by way of a TV screen to one side of the stage, serve more as comic distractions than as additions to the play's meanings or effects.

Guided by director Lyndsey Turner, the four onstage actors Paul Hunter (blackmailer), Amanda Lawrence (his wife), Justin Salinger (victim) and Justine Mitchell (his wife) - and the onscreen Matthew Dunster go very far toward convincing us that they know what's going on.

Paul Hunter in particular captures the mix of impotent nonentity and eerie madness driving and energising the domestic tyrant.

Special credit must go to designers Matthew Walker and Hannah Clark for a series of animated projections that turn a white box stage into a variety of living environments.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Nocturnal - Gate  Theatre 2009


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