Devised by Mike Alfreds, Sonja Linden and the Company for ViSiBLE Theatre Ensemble, Five Characters in Search of a Good Night’s Sleep debuts at the Southwark Playhouse for a three week run.
The play follows five characters who are all connected by the same issue – insomnia. We are invited to listen to their stories through a series of intertwined monologues that explain the causes of their night-time turmoil.
The five characters are ordinary people with extraordinary stories.
Helen (Sally Knyvette) is a glamourous woman living in a luxurious house in Hampstead. She is kept awake by obsessions about lifestyle improvement and regret. Bill (Vincenzo Nicoli) works as a chef at the south coast and is entranced by the sea. He tries to combat his inability to sleep by wandering along the beach front. Hugo (Gary Lilburn) stays up thinking of old romances and flings. Hugo longs for an end to his loneliness and is frightened of losing his independence as he ages. Geraldine Alexander plays Terry, a working class Liverpudlian. At night, she dreams of freedom from life as a carer for her mother. Heartbreakingly, Terry is haunted by the memory of her child and longs for her daughter to be back in her life. Harvey (Andrew Hawkins) is a rebellious history teacher. His sleeplessness turns into manic energy that spurs on his need to confront political injustice.
The characters are vastly different. This acts as a timely reminder of the universality of mental health challenges. Separated by class, education, political views and geography, Five Characters in Search of a Good Night’s Sleep reminds us we are all equal – mental health issues do not discriminate.
This is a masterclass in monologue. The actors wealth of experience is evident. Their performances are thoughtfully crafted which is inspiring to watch.
Dramaturgically the play would have benefitted from more conflict and surprise. The monologue structure felt slow at points. When the actors are not monologuing, they show how the lack of sleep takes a toll on their characters physically. They move around the walls of the space and deteriorate physically as the play goes on. This feeling is emulated by the audience, you begin to feel restless and uncomfortable. Almost as if you, yourself cannot sleep. Therefore, the consistent legato tempo of the piece actually encourages a sense of empathy.
ViSiBLE produce an interesting piece of theatre that encourages you to consider the torment of insomnia. After all, we go to the theatre to be challenged. Yet, rest assured, there are laughs along the way.