Part of the British Council showcase, Nocturnes is a new piece from production group Imitating the Dog. It’s a unique multimedia exploration of film and theatre, as two actors voice a film they can’t see and don’t acknowledge, accompanied by a third character billed on the programme as ‘control’.
A big projection screen hangs across the stage, showing a film in the style of a 1950s black-and-white spy thriller, featuring two British agents holed up in a small apartment in the Russian Zone of post-war Berlin. They await instructions, but from whom? Beneath the screen the actors who play the two agents appear to voice the film onstage. But as we discover, it isn’t that simple.
At times the show feels like a straightforward case of a film and a play fitting together and complementing one another, but at others it feels like a battle between the two media; between pre-recorded finality and live-yet-rehearsed theatre performance. The show asks questions about who is copying whom, and who is really in control.
There is a lot of talk of the past, of endings, and of whether or not you can change them. We are forced to think about free will and conformity to expectation, and the setting of the 1950s spy thriller brings this into real-life focus in terms of history and the discourse surrounding it.
Taken without the complications and questions it raises, the film in itself is very convincing of its intended genre, and has clearly been created with a lot of thought and care. The actors providing the voiceover onstage below are impressively accurate in their timing with a visual that they cannot see.
This is a startlingly unique and explorative work. It’s quite hard to follow, and there are lots of things that don’t really make sense, but it feels like the show is deliberately intending to ask more questions than it answers. It’s strange and thought-provoking – and enjoyably so.