Review: Nocturnes questions reality in the post-truth era

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Image courtesy of Lancaster Arts

Upon entering the theatre the audience is met with a sparse stage set with only one table, three chairs and two microphone stands, appearing as something akin to a sound stage. A projector hangs overhead and begins playing the opening credits of a classic noir style film. It informs us that Nocturnes by the internationally acclaimed company imitating the dog will be set in Berlin in the 1950’s, in the midst of the cold war.

This play is advertised as one that will pose questions for the modern viewer in what has been called our current post-truth era, essentially meaning that the production promises to question our reliance on emotions over fact. In this Nocturnes delivers. One of the simplest facts in life, the existence of our own reality, comes into question while the use of projector creates a certain emotional distance between the characters on screen and the audience that simply isn’t there with the actors in the flesh on the stage. The actors speak across the film in near perfect synchronicity, blurring the line between what is real and what is fiction. Nocturnes creates a wonderful complexity within the piece as the audience, who are ever aware of the theatre setting in which they are sat, begin to question whether it is the actors on stage, screen or in the theatre itself that are representing the ‘real’ world.

As the show progresses there are fractures in the control of the characters as they, or perhaps it is the actors, begin to show contempt at having to comply with what their superior demands. The woman in charge of it all is suitably named Control (Morven Macbeth) who gave an expert performance as bit by bit her precious power slipped through her fingers. As the two main characters, Amy (Laura Atherton) and Harry (Matt Prendergast), voice the film which they cannot see and do not acknowledge their relationship always seems to be in conflict between their own desires and that of Control.

In this theatrical take on a spy fiction film the split between using film as a documentation of our history and the use of theatre as a more unofficial media with an immediate relationship with the audience becomes all the more clear. As phrased by the company imitating the dog the piece explores, “what might happen in a standoff between theatre and film and what might be at stake when these forms of representing the world are directly placed in an antagonistic relationship.” In our apparent post-truth society where facts are overruled by emotion while the mass media and ubiquity of social media holds such an important place in our lives the idea of superiors withholding information and controlling things beyond our reach is ever the more thought-provoking.