David McClelland & Nadia Shash
Cock Tavern Theatre
Where: Outer London
20 July 2009 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews London’s Fringe regularly throws up some real curiosities, and The Wrong Sleep is a humdinger. Essentially it is a dialogue between a Christian priest and a woman who doesn’t know where she belongs – whether in the imaginary town in which the play is set (Ruthsdale) or in a religious faith. She keeps draping herself in a transparent black veil, as if flirting with Islam, but then taunts the priest by revealing herself in her negligée and making goo-goo eyes at him. She also suffers from insomnia, and uses the body of her dead husband for sexual gratification. There are hints about being abused as a child (yes, that one again) and she has killed all three of her infant sons, keeping them – or their ashes? – in three pot plants which she offers to the priest as a gift. Oh, and she killed her husband too. And has blown up the husbands of several women of the town. Not exactly someone you’d want to sit alone with in the middle of a sleepless night.
She then stabs the priest, for no better reason than a) he is male, and she clearly has an abhorrence of the male sex, and b) he can give her no answers to her confusion over faith. The programme notes talk about a woman, a stranger, manipulating society from within, so there is clearly some fundamental message intended here, but what appears at the outset to be an interesting confrontation between two religions and two lonely, flawed people withers away in an increasingly wild and desperate plot that seems not to know where it's going. We also find that as the priest is dying slowly of his stab wounds he is somehow occupying the same space as the body of the husband, which hitherto has appeared to be somewhere else entirely.
The writer, Mary Mazzilli, makes a brave attempt to tackle various important subjects – religious values, terrorism, women's role in society - but fails to construct a plausible dramatic scenario in which to explore them. There's an intriguing two-hander lurking in there somewhere, but on this evidence the play is undermined by the fact that the rationality of the priest is completely mismatched against the obvious mental fragility of the woman. David McClelland gives the priest a suitably tortured air and Nadia Shash as Janet flaunts herself and her delusions with conviction, but to little purpose.
- Giles Cole
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