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It took ten minutes—probably less—for In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises) to break my heart.
It happened on what is page nineteen of the play script, with these words:
WOMAN. He doesn’t dance and
neither does she but sometimes
when they’re in their house at night they do
a sort of two-step in the kitchen.
MAN. They go to weddings,
first of family members and then,
all of a sudden,
of their own friends and
the weddings have open bars,
WOMAN. (the drinks are free,
all the drinks are free)
so they do the two-step out in public there too.
At which point the music came up, and the lights darkened to red, and the two actors playing the Man and the Woman started to dance. It was easy-to-dance-to music, the sort of thing that comes on at clubs that don’t take themselves terribly seriously, a wash of strummed guitars and steady, heavy drumming. The couple danced, grinning at each other goofily; the audience (who up until now had been receiving some of the snarky asides of the dialogue) was forgotten. The man stepped forward, held the woman, rocked her from side to side. I felt something inside me tighten, and realized I was about to cry, and thought, “Oh, for God’s sake, not at something so obvious”—but there it was. They were immersed in a joy so perfect and complete that it could not possibly last for more than a few minutes, and I was crying because I knew it couldn’t last, and after that, wherever the play and its actors wanted me to go, I was willing to go with them.
In the Night Time excels at this sort of thing: an event or a statement that’s both completely mundane and highly significant because highly personal. Throughout the play, we hear about things that are happening, “not here, but somewhere”—a woman is stoned alive, a man commits suicide, someone drops a glass, someone Googles something, a child is born—and, we’re repeatedly told, “the two are not connected”. But, as we know, and as the play eventually acknowledges, things are connected, and can become connected so easily. The fear of the world outside is banal when someone else is expressing it, but real and true when the fear is yours.
That fear is what drives the play. The Man and the Woman have a child, the child cries at night, and through the course of one evening, anxiety and sleep deprivation force them to confront all of their fears about bringing an infant into the world. There are some marvelous moments where that sense of banality and profundity hang in balance. They compete to tell the child a bedtime story, and although the competition is funny in a way, it’s also unnerving. The Man interrupts too much; the Woman hates being interrupted; and the story, which started out as the fable of the lion and the mouse, becomes all about their own insecurities, all about their own feelings of marginalisation, failure, inadequacy, vulnerability. The baby, of course, doesn’t understand a word, because it’s a baby. Which makes you wonder: was telling the baby a story ever really about the baby? Are the sacrifices we make for our children and our lovers ever actually about them?
Fortunately, In the Night Time suggests, the sun does rise, usually. The Man and the Woman make up. The baby—no one knows how or why—stops crying. They make eggs for breakfast. I am sure that, if I were a parent, I would have watched this differently, perhaps felt some things more deeply and others less. But I wonder if the real point of the play is that your fear, although it feels necessary and maybe even is, won’t do you much practical good. What you have to do instead is hold on.
MAN. But the egg—
WOMAN. The egg does not break.
MAN. And the child says, how?
WOMAN. And the woman says—
you have to find the strongest part.
In The Night Time (Before The Sunrises) continues at the Gate Theatre until Feb 27. Tickets are £20, except on certain dates when they are £10.