Nadia Nadarajah, Tom Penn. Photos: Helen Murray
Midnight Movie manages a mean feat of being both a complex play and a simple one at the same time, which could possibly work as a metaphor for the writer’s personal battles with her illness, which are never quite truly revealed but are omnipresent all the same.
On the surface of it, the play is essentially an exploration of a modern obsession with the digital world and the ability to watch almost any video at the tap of a screen in the middle of the night. Two performers, one while male and one deaf woman of colour, act as avatars describing a series of found videos unseen by the audience, interspersed with an occasional online chat interaction. Stories of a woman on CCTV battling with an unseen terror, a man bathing in a hotel, two women killing a North Korean dictator thinking they’re on a prank TV show… It is in these moments that Eve Leigh proves to be a masterful storyteller.
Admittedly, for a while at the start I was trying to get my head around what exactly was going (the performers, at first, seemed to be stuck in an experimental play that wouldn’t look out of place in a drama school) but as the play progressed we were sucked in deeper, much like Leigh’s YouTube/internet late night rabbit hole. As we dug deeper into the play it became ever clearer how much Leigh uses the digital world to escape the confines of her painful body – to say more than this feels like a betrayal of a play that needs to be felt and experienced rather than read about.
Nadia Nadarajah and Tom Penn worked well together, Penn speaking the words aloud as Nadarajah signed and mimed much of what was being said. The set design at times worked as a third character with projections filling all three walls and nearly every single word captioned for D/deaf audience members. The only minor downside of this were it making the handful of times Penn made a slight deviation from the script more glaringly obvious. Thankfully, the cast’s performances were captivating enough for this not to be a distraction for long.
While it would have been easy to provide captioning in a rudimentary format, the text brilliantly became an integral to the play through its delivery and location around the set. Massive congratulations to designer Cécile Trémolières and lighting and video designers Joshua Pharo and Sarah Readman for this exciting and effective concept. The sound design from Nwando Ebizie also deserves a notable mention, a brilliant soundscape overall cleverly using a recurring motif of Janelle Monáe’s Make Me Feel, as well as Penn’s live drum playing.
Director Rachel Bagshaw has created a striking and interesting production from Leigh’s text which without a doubt has come from a deeply personal place but delivered in an intriguing and experimental way.