A play that leaves you shaken, speechless and shocked.
The Horse Box Theatre Company present a new and original show with a dead girl at the centre and her family and friends around her. Last Night I Didn’t Sleep A Wink investigates whether or not we could have seen this end before Evie, a girl found dead, could have whilst also taking a deep dive into what life can really be behind closed doors. Written by Emily Bradshaw and Joe Plumb, this is a new, innovative, and immersive story that sucks you and leaves you lost for words. Last Night was an amazing end to the NST’s brilliant Make It So festival of theatre.
The show’s opening sets the tone for the rest of the story with explosive music from the live on-stage band, The Pill, as a press conference with Evie’s family and friend begins. Rather than solve the whodunnit mystery, we are treated to various aspects of Evie Roberts’ life that show who she was, how she treated people, and the trails that she faced both within herself and with those around her. In seeing what her life was like behind closed doors, there is something reassuring and tangible about seeing that other families are messed up as well. Each snippet of life we are given from before Evie’s birth to after her death is punctuated by the dramatic music from The Pill, who also provide the sounds of various scenes that act much like the locomotives in A Streetcar Named Desire, serving to reinforce the characters’ state of mind.
We are never given the answer to her murder, but it doesn’t feel as though that is the purpose of the play. Instead we are taken on a journey through each situation that impresses itself on the central character, making the audience see why people treated or thought of her as they did. She is presented in many ways as being completely unlikeable without the narrative of the play making any excuses for it even after her death, however there are also moments in which you can see the person she is changing as her life does. Last Night serves to instead comment on society, all the way from the third-wave feminist mothers that never wanted to be at the mercy of their reproductive organs, to the teenagers glued to phones that suck them in and sometimes get them into trouble. Multiple aspects of life and the human condition are placed under the microscope in a way that feels tangible, relatable, and incredibly personal to those on stage and more emotionally to those watching.
Each of the performers acted with pure emotion that felt real, beyond anything you could have ever conceived from fiction, and allowed the audience to be pulled towards them and invest into what life was like for Evie, as well as her family. There is no holding back from any of the actors who have taken a well crafted script and transformed it to a journey that never leaves you sat comfortably in your seat. The power behind the intense scenes is coupled with the loud, jarring music that pulls you towards the action and makes you focus on what is being said, in part because their dialogue is hard to hear. The stage becomes a battlefield wherein the actors’ voices compete between the live band that vocalise the tension between each other characters and leads to explosive endings leaving the audience on the very edge.
The presence of each actor on stage throughout the entire show, backed by the The Pill, allowed for a smoother and more seamless transition between each scene ensuring the audience was taken on the waves of emotion depicted throughout the play, rather than having to work to ignore the formal elements of theatre. In doing this everyone felt part of the action where the audience were watching the stage, as well as the band and even the actors that weren’t part of the scene, making the narrative a more communal experience rather than having the audience-actor divide that is present in so much theatre. This was heightened by the audience interaction of handing out ‘missing person’ flyers as well as stewards given an ‘order of service’ for Evie’s funeral as the audience entered and took their seats.
The interactive elements only aided the immersive experience of watching this show and pulled the audience further in towards the narrative and meant that, because we are invested, any effect created on stage hits a lot harder. Although Last Night is a busy show with a lot happening in the course of the narrative, it isn’t overshadowed by the lighting, sound, or design elements and as such the story shines through, but when props are used it doesn’t feel forced and you forget that it is a conscious decision. A lot of the time it feels as though you are watching a snippet of someone’s real life, especially when the lasagne is dished out between five people, or the vodka is spilt on the floor ready to be mopped up.
The props, lighting, set, and costume go unnoticed in isolation which works perfectly and demonstrates that the construction of each element that creates Last Night has gelled so well that they simply work together rather than independently. For this reason, in conjunction with the fantastic actors’ performances, brilliant writing, and effective directing, Last Night I Didn’t Sleep A Wink feels less like a young and experimental play and more seasoned and rooted than the other shows that made up the Make It So festival.
I loved experiencing this play. I say experience because it was never just watching a show but feeling every element of the performance with all your senses, something that you don’t find in every theatre performance and is what makes this show unique. Last Night I Didn’t Sleep A Wink is an intense, emotive, and passionate show that leaves you wide-eyed and shocked. It deals with very real issues and in doing so stirs up a conversation around family, mental health, and choice. I cannot wait to see where The Horse Box Theatre Company takes this show next.
The Make It So festival ran at NST City throughout February 2020.