After last year’s experiment with A Slight Ache, the National Theatre this year turn to Caryl Churchill’s back-catalogue for a one-act play, at cheap ticket prices, to be performed before another show or, like tonight, on nights when the theatre would otherwise be dark. Three More Sleepless Nights is a play about communication (and the lack of it) in relationships, told in three scenes of roughly 15 minutes each. First up Margaret (Lindsey Coulson) and Frank (Ian Hart – another DDA teacher from Harry Potter to add to my collection) whose ten-year marriage is on the rocks as he drinks more and more and has admitted to an affair, while she feels like she’s lost all her individuality. Mostly, the two just shout at each other.
Then a younger couple, Dawn and Pete (Hattie Morahan and Paul Ready, both of whom recently appeared on this stage in Time and the Conways) as he wants to sleep but she keeps him up with her existential musings. She’s having panic attacks about whether she’s even really alive, and it seems like these are nothing new because Pete completely avoids the issue and keeps describing the plot of Alien to her as a sort of bedtime story. Unsurprisingly neither relationship works out, and in the final scene Margaret and Pete have got together and are at a relatively early stage of their relationship. As we see the communication patterns from their previous relationships reassert themselves, I guess it’s down to the audience to decide whether this signals the beginning of the end for them, or the start of them being able to accomodate each other’s foibles – I took it to be the latter.
It’s not Churchill’s most revolutionary play but it feels authentic enough in its various relationships, and it’s well-cast. Paul Ready remains effortlessly likeable (and having seen him in a bookshop about 45 minutes before the performance started, I’ve decided he’s a Would, albeit in a scruffy way) and gets some gentle comedy from his endless movie quoting. It’s an interesting little revival, and while maybe not a must-see, it’s good for the National to be adding to its repertory with short plays that might otherwise be forgotten.
Three More Sleepless Nights by Caryl Churchill is booking until the 27th of August at the National Theatre’s Lyttelton.