• Amy Toledano

Midnight Movie presented by Royal Court Theatre

“Tonight I am not here.

This is a place that’s very hard on people with bodies like mine.”

What is it?

Eve Leigh’s latest play Midnight Movie exists between the hours of midnight and dawn. Someone is having a sleepless and painful night, surfing the internet to distract from the chronic pain that keeps them awake.

What is it about?

This production is a shining example of theatre as a playful medium, as a way of communicating the incommunicable, of sharing stories and experiences in a relatable and educational way. The text asks us to “consider the fact that time passes unevenly when you’re awake and in pain,” and the words – spoken in English by Tom Penn, signed in BSL by Nadia Nadarajah, and projected as written text onto the stage’s backdrop – honour this request.

The performers communicate with one another and the audience through speech, BSL, text, dance, and live drums, a series of stories seemingly unconnected. Stories you can lose yourself in on the internet in that liminal space between sleep and waking. A rabbit hole of other forms and identities to tumble down when your own body is too much to bear. There are echoes of Bagshaw’s previous production The Shape of the Pain, the story of her own experience with chronic pain told by an able-bodied actor (with integrated captions projected). The question of who we choose to communicate our stories to and how – the avatars and mediums we use – is a question theatre-makers and storytellers should always ask themselves. What is the best way to tell this story? The bodies of those driving forces behind Midnight Movie – Leigh, Bagshaw, and dramaturg Matilda Ibini – are ever-present in this dreamlike space, and the “avatars” Penn and Nadarajah communicate these expertly.

How did it make me feel?

Although there were several points where I felt confused and disconnected, stuck grasping at a cultural reference I haven’t quite understood with the play moving on too swiftly for me to get, I did feel that this was sort of the point. Time moves differently. Cécile Trémolières’s beautiful design also feels simultaneously seamless and jarring, like the entire show is taking place in the recesses of memory, where certain details are forgotten or half-remembered. I was overwhelmed with detail and felt like my focus was constantly being torn between different areas of the stage – too much to consume in one sitting. Again, it felt like this was the point.

I remember being awake and in pain. I remember times from (as Leigh puts it) “before I was ill, or actually I was ill but I didn’t know it yet,” when I would lie awake at night waiting for the storm to pass. Time did indeed pass unevenly. It undulated in messy waves, getting stuck on one thought for a thousand hours and another for a split second. Nothing was clear, and this is something I have never been able to communicate to others. Although my pain is different to Leigh’s, the sentiments expressed in this poetic and jarring piece of theatre struck a chord with me. I, too, have often found that theatre spaces are unkind to people like me.

What is most special about Midnight Movie is its commitment to access. It practices what it preaches with warnings and preventative methods and I watched the entire production with earplugs in and still heard (or rather, read) every word. I felt safe in the space that these artists had created because they had created it for those bodies who often feel displaced. They provided clear warnings, audio describers, captions, ear defenders, ear plugs, and an extensive document which gave a play-by-play of every change in light and sound for those of us sensitive to them. I often find myself enraged at how little care seems to be taken at many theatres to ensure the mental and physical safety of the audiences in their care for an evening. Shock is sensationalized and trigger warnings dismissed as “spoilers”. I am so grateful to this production for making this space so safe and welcoming to all bodies, all minds.

Anything else?

I’m still processing this show. I almost wish it had been a film, so that I could return to details I missed and understand them better. I’ve been flipping through the playtext for days, trying to conjure up the images of how they were communicated on stage. It feels now like the entire thing was a beautifully orchestrated dream and recalling those details feels like trying to keep water in a paper bag. But something about it has got right at the heart of me, the place that has been trying and failing to communicate my own pain for so long.

Kayla x

Midnight Movie is playing at the Royal Court theatre until the 21st December 2019.

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