Theatre adaptation of Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch will reveal hidden people of 1940s

The Brixton-born star of a play coming to south west London says audiences should expect an alternative World War Two narrative.

Actor Sam Jenkins-Shaw (pictured above) will appear in The Night Watch, which starts a national tour on August 22 including November performances at Richmond Theatre and Croydon Playhouse.

The play is an adaption of Sarah Waters’ best-selling 2006 novel tackling themes of sexuality and identity as the hidden histories of four ordinary people are uncovered in 1940s London.

Sam said: “If people come expecting to see a play about how great the war was at making people come together, they won’t get that – they will get home truths.

“The play is about shedding light on sections of society that you might not think about when you think of the 1940s.”

The tour is produced by The Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal and is the first revival of the play that premiered in 2016 at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.

Like the original, the new version has been adapted by Olivier-nominated playwright Hattie Naylor although there are differences. In part this is due to the ten tour theatres, spanning locations from Eastbourne to Edinburgh, having proscenium stages while the initial show was acted in the round.

Sam had to prepare meticulously for the performance in which he plays two characters – Fraser, a conscientious objector to the war, and Cole, a Welsh ambulance operative.

He said: “We did a lot of research. There are eight of us in the cast and we all gave presentations on certain topics. I presented on music in the 1940s and others covered science, technology and gay and lesbian culture.”

Sam also visited the Imperial War Museum and took insight from a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland made shortly before taking the part.

Waters’ novel is a fragmented, complex and macabre story that opens in 1947 and runs backwards to 1941 with many of the scenes open to interpretation.

The disjointed nature of the book is reflected in a sparse set made up of a London skyline and rubble that grows more prominent as the story moves in reverse towards the Blitz.

Sam said: “We only have a suggestion of things on stage, it is a metaphorical space. We as actors invent things in our imagination and we are asking the audience to do that as well, which is really exciting.

“The scenes sort of bleed into one another, it’s kind of a memory play. You get overlaps in scenes and you see different relationships and different characters hold the stage.”

This approach is embodied in a scene from 1944 during which the stage is shared between Fraser’s Wormwood Scrubs prison cell and two characters flirting amongst the rubble of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Sam has predominantly played comedy roles in the past and his biggest challenge for this production has been playing the intense and restrained character of Fraser.

He said: “He has baggage internally that you have to suppress. It’s a lot about playing subtext of lost love and trying to play lines that aren’t necessarily about that.”

Sam already had a job offer on the table when auditioning for The Night Watch and was attracted to the production’s uniqueness and relevance to modern times.

He said: “It’s about the aftermath of a massive event and you can’t help but think of Brexit.

“The country was at points splintered and fractured but also comes together and there’s a lot we can learn from that.”

A list of the tour dates and tickets can be found on The Original Theatre Production’s website.

Feature image credit: James Findaly 

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