This review was originally written for West End Frame
In the Night Time, Nina Segal’s unnerving two-hander currently making its UK premiere at Notting Hill’s intimate Gate Theatre, is enough to put anyone off parenthood. Ben Kidd’s production, a brisk hour of tired parents, screaming babies and repetitive, absurdist dialogue, is stuffed to bursting point with ideas. Some of the stick and some of them don’t, but the snap and crackle of the piece, maintained throughout by two strong performances from Alex Waldmann and Adelle Leonce, is enough to prevent one from disengaging.
Waldmann and Leonce, billed only as man and woman, are wrapped in cling film as the audience enters, tucked up amongst a large stack of household items and children’s toys. They burst forth and their brisk conversation, which is more a detached third-person description of their lives than an actual dialogue, bubbles from then on. As they talk, they literally build a life around them, taking lamps, rugs and tables from the pile and creating a cluttered, jumbled set from them. Their chatter moves from them first meeting, to them moving in together, to them getting pregnant, and to them becoming parents. And that’s when things take a decidedly surreal turn.
Their child will not stop crying. Represented by a plastic baby doll with a flashing orange head and a piercing car siren for a scream, it sits in between them, a cruelly disfigured parody of a baby. Its incessant discomfort drives them first to frustration, then anger, then into a hallucinogenic trance in which all the evils of the world come pouring into their flat in a whirlwind of lights and noises, tearing their life apart. Why bring a child into such a war-torn, incomprehensible place is the question Segal asks, and how will the mistakes of our generation weigh upon the next?
Georgia Lowe’s design and Kidd’s direction are imaginative and original throughout. Lowe’s flat-pack set being assembled on-stage by the actors as the play progresses means that there is always something to engage one’s eye and George Dennis’ pulsating sound design is fidgeting and disturbing throughout. Some of the symbolism in Kidd’s production is arresting in the extreme – the radioactive orange baby for example – but some of it is a little off-target. A sequence in which a webcam is used to project a film of the two actors onto a suspended towel feels a little too intricate to impact.
It is Segal’s unnerving script that drives the play. She manages to create a believable relationship between two sympathetic characters without ever having them speak directly to each other in any conventional sense. Neither are perfect – Waldmann’s endearingly kind Man is too fond of cigarettes and Leonce’s equally sweet Woman drinks too much – but their love for each other lifts them out of the ordinary. Both Waldmann and Leonce draw out the myriad of different emotions throughout their journey extremely well; their bitterness and venom as exhausted parents is particularly convincing.
At times, the repetitive, abstract writing feels a little gratuitous and the sheer variety of it becomes slightly tiresome at times, but Segal’s play is also littered with a delectably gentle humour and she has an excruciating ability to disquiet with gritty, grubby turns of phrase. As reality – or what reality there was – begins to disintegrate around Waldmann and Leonce, the relentless rhythm of horrors that Segal’s evokes is horrifically real. One squirms with discomfort as Waldmann describes “hot blood leaking from the IKEA light fixture” and a post-apocalyptic landscape “left glittering with plastic wrap and bottle tops and sheets of glass”.
Segal’s play feels a little concerned with its own cleverness at times, but for the most part it fizzes with a lustrous creativity, as does Kidd’s production.