Night Sings Its Songs is a beautifully crafted play that tackles the quiet desperation of two young lovers who have stopped connecting. The suffocation and confinement that they experience living with each other are represented by the small acting space cleverly constructed by director, Rodrigo Calderón. The play’s setting is perfect for the relatively small and intimate La Mama stage.
The set is a living room sofa around which the actors perform for the entire 60 minutes of this enthralling play. Behind the sofa hang five or so venetian blinds, all closed over so the outside world is shut out for the characters inside. Apart from an Ikea-esque free standing lamp, this it the entire make-up of the set. This simplicity of set and lack of sound effects throughout the piece allows for the lighting design to become so alluring and important. Lighting designer (Shane Grant) manages to engender the gloom, desperation and the sadness of the narrative through his careful design. The interplay between the naturalistic and non-naturalistic elements of the script is carefully punctuated by Grant’s lighting changes. There were many lighting highlights; one highlight being the shadows that were cast onto the venetian blinds adding to the sombre and mysterious mood of the piece.
The Young Woman (Katharine Innes) attempts to claw her way out of the rut she believes she finds herself in. She grits her teeth, weeps and writhes around in a cat-like fashion, all in the hope of gaining attention from her partner, The Young Man (Reece Vella). He is a failed writer and buries himself in books to forget who he is and to combat the rejection from his publishers and from her. The Young Man is a difficult character to like; he is despondent, mostly uncommunicative and emotionally stunted. The Young Woman is demanding, desperate and repeatedly articulates her needs and berates him for their disappointing life.
Throughout their performances, the actors switch from naturalistic dialogue to drawing on Meyerholdian principles of acting to great effect. You feel a sense of uneasiness as you watch the emotionally charged interactions between the couple and between the couple and his parents who visit early in the piece to look in on the couple’s new-born. We never see this baby, or hear it. It is just there, in the other room. A baby that tears them apart or a baby that is glues them together?
The dialogue sizzles with naturalism and poignancy. It is so authentic and economical. It is easy to see why the playwright, Jon Fosse, has been dubbed the best theatre writer to come out of Norway since Ibsen over the past 20 years. He has been performed many times in Europe and the UK and is enormously popular. The play feels like it runs longer than an hour as the couple’s story is so intensely played out.
The parents of The Young Man (Dennis Manahan and Miles Paras) pay a visit to their son’s abode. They are as awkward as he is. The father chooses not to even view their new grandchild. They exchange pleasantries in an uneasy fashion and are glad to escape from the couple’s home. There is a light and happy moment between the father and son but this moment evaporates rapidly.
In her attempt to get out of the home and live a little The Young Woman has an affair with Baste (Luca Roma). Roma has fantastic stage presence and he plays Baste as a gentle, moral and loving soul. As the story reaches it climax, Roma’s acting skills come to the fore.
Fosse gives us a 21st century domestic drama that does parallel somewhat his compatriot, the father of naturalism, Henrik Ibsen. What happens when two people begin to languish in a committed relationship from which they are unable to escape? How long can a couple stick with each other after they have become complacent together?
Moreover, Fosse explores the inner reaches of the heart when one’s love for another is so embedded it becomes invisible to both parties and is abused. This is gripping drama and the acting is entrancing.
Finally, Melbourne gets to see the most prominent work of the most-performed living playwright at the moment.