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When the Night Begins

Hanif Kureishi
Hampstead Theatre
(2004)

The two characters in When the Night Begins could not apparently be more of a contrast. Jane oozes glamour as she enters the too seedy apartment looking like a 1960s Italian film star with dark glasses and high, black stilettos.

Her host, Cecil, is a retired bus driver and trade unionist with communist leanings. It takes time to understand what they have in common but, almost inevitably, it turns out to be the fashionable subject of child abuse that powers this play.

Cecil moved in with the family when Jane was a teenager and her brother younger. While he has happy memories of this time, Jane who has now become rich as a result of a marriage to an older man finds it the stuff of nightmares.

For 90 minutes, the pair discuss issues around this subject and try to apportion blame. Cecil's somewhat unconvincing view is that Jane was flirting with him and only too keen to get into his bed. The way that she sees it, he was a monster preying on and attacking little children.

The pair veer between reasonable understanding and violent abuse in an overly controlled way. This means that the production delivers a combination of political and social debate; and unreasoning anger without real explanation in the characters of the deeply unhappy couple for the switches between the two.

When the Night Begins suffers from Hanif Kureishi's overly loud authorial voice. For much of the time, the characters seem to be no more than ciphers for his views, whether on capitalism or the relationship between the sexes.

Director Anthony Clark has been lucky enough to secure the services of two fine actors, Michael Pennington and Catherine McCormack, for this play. Despite their best efforts, it never manages to engage with its audience and while some of the areas that it investigates are interesting, it feels more like a short story than a theatrical event.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher