Victoria Worsley for the most part pulls haunting success out of the jaws of pretentious catastrophe in this bizarre man-woman-suitcase three-hander.
The train of the title looms, absent, over the piece like a Godot: it neither appears, nor does either of the antagonists ultimately leave to catch it. Instead, Anna and Sam spend a little over an hour on a dark, deserted street dancing, arguing, smoking and arguing some more beneath a solitary lamp-post (instead of the withered tree of Beckett's play).
Worsley assembled her piece from fragments of dialogue, and it often shows. Dislocated lines leap out; each character is defined in a series of moments, which slowly gel into a portrait of a couple each trying, as it were, to write the script of their relationship, each unskilled at negotiating rewrites and unsure how to improvise when the other departs from their intended lines.
Anna, in Worsley's portrayal, is slight, frail but somehow more in control of matters – changing the story of her departure several times, and at one point manoeuvring Sam into accepting that he is the one heading for the train. She is elfin, in the mediaeval sense of a graceful but slightly sinister trickster – removing a false bottom in her Samsonite case to pour out dozens of tomatoes (for no readily apparent reason), and transforming it at the close into a water- and light-filled Grail-like object (shades of Pulp Fiction).
Ewan Bailey's Sam is a little boy trying to pass himself off as a grown-up. He lapses too readily into cartoon exaggeration and cavorts like a dervish in a Guinness commercial – even, at one point, diving into a "Singin' In The Rain" routine (though, with great restraint, he refrains from swinging round the lamp-post). Jim Howard's mournful jazz trumpet punctuates the action, and Theresa Heskins' direction both gives weight to the chain of instants and weaves them into a continuous whole.
The piece grows laboured in the final 20 minutes or so, as Worsley strives to make explicit the power and dependency at the core of the relationship and then to arrive at a conclusion of sorts. Overall, though, Night Train exhibits a weird charm that should draw envy from several more established purveyors of visual, non-linear theatre.
Written for the London Evening Standard.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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