Reviews London TheatreOWE & Fringe Published 18 April 2016

Review: Deathwatch at the Print Room

Until 7th May 2016

“A beautiful sequence of events”: Verity Healey reviews David Rudkin’s translation of Jean Genet.

Verity Healey
Deathwatch at the Print Room.

Deathwatch at the Print Room.

The saintliness of crime in Genet’s Deathwatch is turned into an allegorical dream in director Geraldine Alexander’s staging of a new translation by David Rudkin. Designer Lee Newby’s stage is not the rock-hewn cell called for in the play’s introduction, but a stand alone cage in front of semi circular flats draped in red curtains and guarded. The Watchman, mannequin like, coolly observes the audience as they take their seats, before she beats her drum and the actors assume their places in the barred box like well trained animals.

The bars of the men’s cage aren’t narrow enough to be the prison that they should be though, and the three inmates – superior and murderous Green-Eyes (Tom Vary), subservient and lovesick Maurice (Joseph Quinn) and chewed-up Lefranc/Jules (Danny Lee Wynter) – all swing through them, as Alexander plays with Green- Eyes’ recollection of his murderous crime.

This suggests it is not the dark terrors of the French prison that’s keeping all three locked in but something far more powerful than the justice system. There is a hint of what it is as the cell door inexplicably opens and Green-Eyes exclaims, “I prepare my executions. I discharge the released. You kids mind out.” The hold on Green-Eyes, who awaits the “slicer”, is death itself, whilst Maurice and Lefranc, light criminals in contrast, long to imitate him. But there’s altogether a bigger presence that commands even Green-Eyes. Snowball is an unseen character, yet he is the king of the slammer and makes even Green-Eyes quail.

Genet’s first play is famous for inverting Christianity, so that evil rather than good is worshipped as a supreme value. In this production the undertones of homoeroticism – innocent and dreamy in needy Maurice, abrupt and aggressive in Lefranc – float slowly to the surface as the lines are delivered at such a pace (presumably to echo the stage direction that they should be “like the fastest lightning, too rapid to be taken in”) that their meanings are some times lost. Not lost though, is Green-Eyes’ attempts at physical and spiritual superiority as he looms large from a perch at the top of the cage like the Angel Gabriel whilst the earthlings quarrel over him below.

The lighting grid, emitting unnatural luminosity as part of lighting designer David Palter’s palette, hangs in close proximity above the cell like the blades of guillotines. Simon Slater’s sound presents itself in throbbing stings similar to dramatic music in action films. The sense of unreality this creates makes it difficult to believe that the prison actually exists; Snowball is a name given rather than felt.

The mysterious female Watchman, played by a versatile Emma Naomi, also takes turns as Green-Eyes’ girlfriend and victim. Whether she is a reflection of the longing Green-Eyes inadvertently expresses when he commits his murder remains unknown. It is clear, however, that Genet’s expression of dark crimes as epic nihilism is an effort to annihilate and control the formlessness that is death and misery.

In colourless beige costumes, baggy and desexualised in such a way that can only heighten the characters’ sexual longing and give them a feeling of religious grace, Vary, Quinn and Wynter form an El Greco trio. The play unfolds into “a beautiful sequence of events.”

Deathwatch is on until 7th May 2016. Click here for tickets.


Verity Healey

Verity writes for and contributes to Ministry of Counterculture and is a film facilitator for Bigfoot Arts Education. She is also a published short story writer and filmmaker.

Review: Deathwatch at the Print Room Show Info

Directed by Geraldine Alexander

Written by Jean Genet in a translation by David Rudkin

Cast includes Emma Naomi, Joseph Quinn, Tom Varey, Danny Lee Wynter



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