WARWICK — I haven’t read Sarah Waters’ 2006 book, “The Night Watch,” but after watching Hattie Naylor’s adaptation of the best-selling novel on stage Tuesday night at the Gamm, I certainly plan to. “The Night Watch” is the fourth novel for the Welsh-born author (“Tipping the Velvet,” “Affinity” and “Fingersmith”); the book was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize and has been called a masterwork.
In Warwick, Gamm Theatre Artistic Director Tony Estrella, who directs the play, can also be called a masterwork. Or more aptly, a masterworker. Once again Estrella gives us a production to remember. Thoughtful, poignant, tender and complicated, this is a play to discuss and analyze, ponder and savor. The performances from the cast, too, are memorable and strong.
At its core, “The Night Watch” is a love story. A love story infused with history and themes of survival and hope. The blitzes of World War II, with the bombings and ear-splitting air raids, serve as the backdrop. There may not be much humor in war or in the destruction of one of the world’s great cities, but team Waters/Naylor know when and how to use humor. “The Night Watch” can be quite funny at times.
Set in 1940s London, the story — which moves backwards from 1947 to 1944 to 1941 — centers around several Londoners and their intertwining lives. First we meet Kay Langrish (Gillian Mariner Gordon is superb), who drove an ambulance during the war and is suffering from post-traumatic trauma. We come to understand why she wanders about so restlessly. “I can’t get over it,” she tells her fellow ambulance driver Mikey (Casey Seymour Kim is terrific) in a haunting scene in the beginning. When the two sing “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” at the end, your heart will break.
During the war, Kay rescues Viv (Erin Eva Butcher plays her with perfect loveliness) and gives her a cherished family ring to save her from disgrace. The unmarried Viv is bleeding profusely from a miscarriage. Kay’s ring will eliminate some of Viv’s shame, which seems to run in the family. Viv’s brother Duncan (Patrick Mark Saunders is painfully haunting as the innocent, grief-stricken young man) is a conscientious objector who spends years in prison and is haunted by the war. The ring, it turns out, helps bring things full circle.
Then there’s the manipulative Helen Giniver (Rachel Dulude is a powerhouse) who tempts Kay and seduces Julia (Meg Kiley Smith), Robert Fraser (Michael Liebhauser) and Mr. Mundy (Jim O’Brien), all of whom contribute to the play’s potence. Kiley Smith as Mrs. Leonard, the Mary Baker Eddy-ish Christian Science practitioner, is hilarious, as is Seymour Kim in her second role of Mrs Alexander.
The set (Michael McGarty), which seems basic and simple at first, with its large, brown, wooden vintage radio standing at the center, becomes all the more intriguing as it transforms into a dating agency, a bombed-out church and a prison cell by use of the several surrounding platforms and sets of stairs, which the actors frequent with some regularity.
Bravo to dialect coach Candice Brown. The British accents are spot on. And, oh the costumes. Well, done Meg Donnelly. Well done.
“The Night Watch” runs through Feb. 10 at The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. Tickets are $44, $52 and $60. Call 401-723-4266 or order online at gammtheatre.org.