Hattie Naylor speaks to Luke Prowse Baldwin about the Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal’s revival of her adaptation of The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. Set in London during the air raids of the 1940s this is the story of three young women and one young man whose lives connect in surprising ways.
It’s fantastic to talk with you, Hattie. For anybody who doesn’t know it already, what’s the synopsis of The Night Watch?
Sarah told me that it was inspired by Harold Pinter’s Portrayal, and that’s probably one of the running themes throughout the whole book. It goes backwards, our portrayal does. It’s set in the blitz. I don’t know if you know much about that period, but my mother’s generation talk about being really unified during the war, so perhaps things like sexual preference didn’t seem as important. There is an urgency to living that happens during war time. Particularly one of the female characters has ended up in a gay relationship but will probably settle down after the war and have children, and she won’t continue that identity. That’s something to do with the extremity of what war can create in an individual, where the norms of living are set to one side. The novel covers many different themes, but that’s one of the core themes within it.
How involved was Sarah in the adaptation process?
She was very generous. The other thing to remember is that she’d written it ten years prior to me adapting it. You get slightly less attached to it. She turned up maybe three or four times and gave fabulous pointers about things we hadn’t got quite right. She was wonderful to work with – a wonderful person.
And are you still in touch now?
When it’s performing in Guildford, I think we’re going to see it.
That’ll be nice then. So Sarah Waters has won countless awards, some of those for The Night Watch. She’s a number one best seller. How much pressure did you feel when adapting it?
I don’t know. I’ve done an awful lot of adaptations, so I’m confident about that. I didn’t feel any pressure from her, which is another reason why she was so great to work with. The pressure was never from Sarah. The pressure is always going to be you’re worried what you’ve done as a piece of theatre isn’t going to work.
But in terms of Sarah’s fanbase, was there a pressure?
No – I didn’t feel that. Because I’m an experienced adapter of work, I really take time to understand the core of what the original author is trying to write and why it’s a classic. I try and understand that first. Then, I go and find out about the author themselves. Once you understand the perspective a writer is writing from, everything becomes much more easy when understanding the core of the play. What I tend to do is really try and enhance that central core premise or the central ideas. I’ve got a history of doing an awful lot of adaptations where I stay true to something central in the book. I know that she [Waters] was happy with the adaptation, and she did say this very lovely thing to me when she came to see the dress at the Royal Exchange. I turned to her and said, “It must be so hard to see the book reduced to such a short thing.” She said, “No. I can’t understand why it was so long now.” Isn’t that a lovely thing to say?
Fantastic! Absolutely fantastic that I’d done service to her beautiful book.
As you say, that’s what it’s about. How inspired were you by the TV adaptation that aired on BBC Two in July 2011?
I didn’t watch it until I’d done my first draft, so not at all I’d say – simple as that. They [the filmmakers] introduced heterosexual storylines into it, and I’d taken the only heterosexual storyline out! It’s a long way from that adaptation – really a long way. The television series concluded the storylines, which I don’t do; I stuck to the book much more closely I’d say.
Sounds good! This isn’t the first time the play’s been staged with Rebecca Gatward directing it at the Royal Exchange in Manchester a few years ago. That was really well received. In comparison to that, how did you envisage this new production developing?
It’s very different. It’s interesting seeing the same parts being played in different ways. I’m absolutely delighted with what I’ve seen so far. It’s beautifully cast. Of course the main difference is it’s not in the round. The round has its limitations. I think sometimes you have to make everything bigger in the round than you do if it’s proscenium, so in some ways the play has benefitted. I think it’s very beautiful, and there’s a new scene in it, something which I think needed to be included.
That’s really interesting – certainly what you said about that orientation. Just to finish off, have you got much in the pipeline coming up?
I’m nearly always juggling about five plays. I’m doing a new production with Extraordinary Bodies, who are an integrated circus company; we have two blind aerialists! We’re doing a big show about a circus during 1930s Berlin, and I’m writing that with Jamie Beddard. I’m doing a version of Brewster’s Millions for Storyhouse in Chester, and I’ve got an original radio commission about a boy who believes he’s a bird.
I’ll keep a lookout! Hattie, thanks for taking the time to talk. I know you’ve been busy lately. Let’s hope you continue to get some really good plaudits as you have already.
Nice talking to you, Luke. Take care!
The Night Watch runs at York Theatre Royal until 7th September before continuing its national tour calling at Reading, Guildford, Ipswich, Edinburgh, Warwick Arts Centre, Richmond Theatre, Salisbury Playhouse and Croydon.
Image: Mark Douet