Theatre

The Wrong Sleep @ Cock Tavern, London



cast list
Nadia Shash and David McClellandMary Mazzili’s debuted this play at the Camden Fringe Festival in August last year.

Since then the Lumenis Theatre production has been through revisions and but still remains what could be one of the most off, off-westend shows seen in some time.

The Wrong Sleep is a two-hander about insomnia. Nightowl Anglican priest (David McClelland) can’t sleep due to spiritual stress while Janet (Nadia Shash) is kept awake by, amongst other things, her identity crisis, as Muslim who came to England as a child.
The town they both live in has been shaken by a bomb blast which resulted in many victims. The priest tries to hold the community together in its grief and provide a kind of security for Janet as, slowly, she begins to lose her grip and her self control.

Despite their differences they come to something approaching a sympathetic understanding. Both characters as written are heavy with symbolism and stereotype. He is good, stable, faithful and unfortunately quite patronizingly patriarchal, even imperialist, while she is irratic, irrational and manic.

Each character tells us how they feel, what they are thinking, what their weaknesses are and before long the play feels like a running commentary on their lives.

Then things go – to put it mildly – awry. At first the production seems to be going nowhere in particular, but just as you are losing interest suddenly a corpse in a sleeping bag is discovered and the focus shifts completely.

If this wasn’t enough, dear, infantile Janet begins to demonstrate the first slips into madness by demanding sexual favours from her dead husband, flirting outrageously with the priest and sporadically feeling herself up with contrived wantonness.

The next thing you know Janet’s killed her babies and has buried them in plant pots. The plants have grown exceedingly well, so well that she offers them as a gift to the priest in the dead of night. In further madness Janet stabs the priest when he refuses to take the plants or hear her confessions.

Eventually she comes clean about bombing the town centre and murdering the children. Whatever made her act out like this? Well, it has something to do with being abused as a child by her father. This is and isn’t mentioned in what is and isn’t a confession in what is and isn’t a working relationship of understanding between the two characters.

Nadia Shash and David McClelland don’t fair badly through all this. McClelland is great at conveying stoicism and a sense of being at a loss as a spiritual advisor, although this meant that he lacked some of the emotional vigor the role demanded. Shash meanwhile is ever wide-eyed as Janet, at times both overacting and overcompensating while playing an admittedly unusual character. But Janet’s delusions and wildness become increasingly engaging and she restrains from performing a caricature of mental disturbance.

Together they just about pull off a kind of understanding between the two characters.

The design for the play is simple, which is something of relief with a plot as loopy as this one. The costume choices and changes can, however, be baffling. Why does the priest wear his shoes to bed? Why is Janet wearing a negligee?

Eventually one starts to wonder what the point of the whole exercise is. The play contains some interesting ideas and potentially engaging stories but they have not been successfully tied together resulting in a bit of a tangled mess.



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