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Double Feature 3 - Nightwatchman

Prasanna Puwanarajah
National Theatre Paintframe
(2011)

Nightwatchman production photo

Any red blooded cricket-loving male will instantly fall in love with Stephanie Street after seeing her energetic but moving solo performance in Nightwatchman, which plays alongside There is a War.

She plays Abirami, a lass from Salford with Sri Lankan Tamil roots. More importantly, having never played cricket the playwright assures me, during the rehearsal period the actress who plays a budding Test star has learnt a perfect cover drive, while her pull and tickle off the legs will both have viewers salivating.

Prasanna Puwanarajah has written a play in which cricket acts as a metaphor for the long-running internecine strife in Abirami's s home country.

Designer Soutra Gilmour has created a cricket net running in traverse through the audience. Here, Abirami faces her only company, Merlin the invisible bowling machine.

Somehow, although there is never a ball in sight, her shots ping sweetly off the bat and walls making you swear that you saw the red leather and, in several cases, leaving audience members jumping out of their skins.

While the staging is immaculate, the story also makes its mark. On one level, it retraces the heroine's history and the experiences that lead her to be playing cricket for England against eleven women from her home country: "Coming to Lord's with war in your back pockets and blood on your hands"..

To add to the fun on opening night, as the feisty batter extolled the solid reliability of her childhood hero Michael Atherton, the real thing was able to soak up the lionising from the audience.

Gradually, the personal history of a family settling in an unsympathetic new land is subsumed by tales of barbaric horrors back home, as her pacifying father is contrasted with his more bombastic brother.

It has to be said that if Abirami had been a housewife, Nightwatchman might have seemed like a simple, enlightening sliver of political theatre.

In this guise, it should be compulsory viewing for anyone interested in cricket, British immigration at the sharp end or Sri Lanka and its explosive politics.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher