Nightwatchman/There Is A War

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© Johan Persson
Oliver Birch (Murray); There Is a War

The playwriting debut of actor Prasanna Puwanarajah, ‘Nightwatchman’ may broaden the stylistic scope of the NT’s ‘Double Feature’ programme, but it’s indubitably the weakest link.

Set on a cricket training pitch, the monologue traces a dark night of the soul for second-generation Sri Lankan immigrant Abirami (Stephanie Street) as she prepares to bat for England against Sri Lanka. It has a heartfelt charm and Street gives a hugely gutsy performance, but Puwanarajah’s script is overwrought, melodramatic and lacking in clarity; the effect is less moving personal and political insight, more crazy lady talking to herself.

Some telling NT class is brought to bear via Street’s impassioned performance and Polly Findlay’s witty staging, in which various fixtures and fittings in new pop-up space the Paintframe appear to get clobbered by imagined cricket balls. But it’s not enough to compensate for a shrill, ungainly piece of writing.

Conversely, Tom Basden’s ‘There Is a War’ probably suffers from an over-abundance of resources. The Paintframe’s pseudo-fringe vibe doesn’t quite tally with the walloping cast of 14 (playing 24 characters) that people a far too busy script that no real fringe theatres could ever afford to stage.

Basden’s satire is set in a near future where a meaningless, highly bureaucratic war rages between identikit factions, The Blues and The Greys.

Phoebe Fox is sparky and likeable as an exasperated doctor attempting to make her way to the frontline, and as a collection of standalone sketches, Lyndsey Turner’s production is enjoyable. Highlights include a misunderstanding-laden torture sequence, and Phoebe’s encounter with a trio of yuppie peace activists, while Basden himself is a likeable recurring presence as a soldier promoted far beyond his abilities.

But as a whole, it’s fractured, unfocused and overactive, a much less effective satire on the ills of a paperwork-driven society than the superb ‘Joseph K’ which Basden adapted for the Gate last year.

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