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On Insomnia and Midnight

Edgar Chías, translated by David Johnston
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
(2006)

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On Insomnia and Midnight presents London with a rare opportunity to get a taste for what is currently happening in Mexican theatre.

As a bonus, this short run features tiny Mexican actress Vanessa Bauche, best known in this country for her performance opposite Gael García Bernal in Amores Perros.

Miss Bauche plays an unnamed young chambermaid in a play which has the subtitle of A Tale to Frighten Chambermaids. Her partner in crime, played by Nicholas Le Prevost, is a guest at the hotel in which she works nights.

For 80 minutes, they play out rather weird fantasies in generally undramatic ways. Like both characters, the city in which they are staying is unnamed but bad things go on there.

One has to read between the lines to get at the story of a disappearing woman who may have committed suicide after an assignation with a strange man in a hotel. It should not take viewers that long to work out that either our heroine is the dead woman returning from the afterlife to understand why she got there or, alternatively, another potential victim meeting and being charmed by a suave murderer.

The hotel room discussions are in part a claustrophobic exploration of two unhappy lives but they may also be steps in a long-term seduction process in which passions ebb and flow from scene to scene.

Hettie Macdonald and her creative team are to be congratulated on a very slick, beautifully realised production.

Designer Lizzie Clachan has created a kind of peepshow Traverse through which audience members can watch their opposite numbers at the same time as voyeuristically entering a hotel room that could come from any major chain set up for the business market. She also pulls a rabbit out of the hat with an impressive rain shower conjured up from nowhere.

The eeriness of the drama is enhanced by Rick Fisher's dramatic lighting that plays with varieties of dimness to great effect. Add in sound designer Paul Arditti's dramatic guillotine effects accompanying blackouts between scenes and you have the makings of something really special.

The only thing that is missing is a dramatic plot to top off so much fine support work. There are only so many variations on a very limited theme and Edgar Chías takes a long time to say far too little.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher