There was a full house for both shows in the Southwark Playhouse this evening. It’s always a delight to see the Playhouse full and buzzing. It really is a lovely venue with consistently friendly and welcoming staff, making a visit here an absolute pleasure, whatever the show, good, bad or middling. Which brings us to Five Characters in Search of a Good Night’s Sleep.
Our five characters cannot sleep. As they try and fail to drop off, they look back over their lives in a series of interlaced monologues. The delivery of these is uniformly excellent and the five performances really elevate this piece, making it worth seeing.
There is a lot to like here, as each character presents their sections of monologue, the others sit, stand, and lounge around the set – all not sleeping. Some appear on the verge of dropping off but it never comes. It nicely demonstrates time is passing and no-one can get any sleep so they are caught up in their internal reviews. Thanks to the smart and skilful direction from Mike Alfreds, insomnia feels real and present in the room with us.
The set by Agnes Treplin is smart and simple, staged with dusky colours. This compliments well with Neill Brinkworth’s lighting, which changes to follow the insomnia through the night. This nicely reinforces that time is passing and sleep is fleeting.
The monologues are generally enjoyable, but the writing feels inconsistent. The constant changes in tense don’t help. Monologues switch between first and third person for each character, sometimes almost within the same line. It becomes rather distracting. We are left wondering if there is some great connection between characters and monologues, and because of this I later wonder if I had misheard or misunderstood. It just doesn’t quite ever all come together.
There is also a rather odd gender discrepancy. The three men all talk about their love lives and about cheating on their partners, one of them even talks about an exotic young woman who doesn’t wear any underwear. The two women… well, they don’t. There’s a short comment from one of the women but it refers to her sex life many decades ago. The other woman talks about ironing and caring for her elderly mother. Is it saying that older men are still sexual creatures while older women are not? This really jumped out to me. And of course, all five are straight and white – a very narrow lens. It is worth noting though, that nothing in the writing points to the age of the characters other than a life lived – none are defined by their age.
Many of the individual elements. from the staging and light design to the direction and the acting, really support the framing device of insomnia and made this an enjoyable evening. But I would have liked a stronger script to really make this shine.
Devised by Mike Alfreds, Sonja Linden and The Company
Directed by: Mike Alfreds
Produced by: Alex Critoph
Set/Costume Design by: Agnes Treplin
Lighting Design by: Neill Brinkworth
Five Characters in Search of a Good Night’s Sleep is playing at Southwark Playhouse until 21 May. Further information and bookings can be found here.