As ‘a new play about dysfunction, dependence and delirium’ by Elspeth Rogers of 3AM Productions, Night Shift hovered a little too far into the over dramatic. Addiction and unstable family relationships are subjects that are very difficult to convey in a nuanced dramatic way, often falling into several pitfalls and clichés, which Night Shift often became prey to.
Night Shift is a one hour play that follows Shaya, a twenty-four-year-old art graduate, whose addiction worsens after becoming jobless and moving back in with her parents, this is attributed to her new girlfriend and girlfriend’s friends. After a 5-day disappearance, which is not fully remembered by Shaya, her parents decide to kick her out of their house. This leads to Shaya tackling trying to quit drugs over the course of a week, a period that is fuelled by yelling matches between her and her parents; drug-induced hallucinations, and brutal conversations between her and her ex-girlfriend Hayley, who was hired by her father.
The play was performed over 5 days at the Burton Taylor Studio, the perfect place for experimental, indie productions, such as Night Shift. Titled ‘the coolest, smallest place to see new work in Oxford’ (by the Oxford Playhouse), the studio seats 50 people, circled around an immersive performance stage, allowing for full absorption and interaction with the audience. Night Shift took full advantage of this, with the set comprised of a central bed, easel and canvas, bedside table and a plethora of life spilled out over the bedroom floor, including beer cans, clothes, makeup, and underwear. This foreshadowed events to come, as the audience entered the studio to find their seats, discovering a messy bedroom and Millie Deere’s Shaya asleep in the central bed. This was further emphasised through the trippy, fluorescent music composed by Emmanuel de Vidal, reminiscent of cult indie TV shows.
One of the major pitfalls of Night Shift was the direct entrance into Shaya arguing with her parents Alexander and Maria (played by Ethan McLucas and Sasha Wertime). In an addiction story, it’s obvious why a character might be arguing with their parents, especially when major trust has been broken. However, without a little backstory, or glimmers of family members caring about one another, it’s difficult to portray these arguments without them coming across as melodramatic and over-the-top, often leading to cliché yelled phrases and actions. This also led to all three characters not becoming fully fleshed out beings who portray a likely family unit and guided the play into feeling like an over-played anti-drug advertisement, targeted towards people who have never encountered drugs and addiction within themselves or people around them.
Gillian Konko and Catherine Williams-Boyle, who played Shaya’s ex-girlfriend Hayley and current girlfriend Tyler, gave standout performances that really shone in the production. Konko’s character added more genuine emotion and believability to the play, creating an opposition to Shaya’s melodrama and delusions. Throughout Shaya’s drug-induced hallucinations, Konko also played a giddy, happy-go-lucky fantasy, which also inserted a little more comedy to the production. Williams-Boyle’s character also increased authenticity to the production, with Tyler not being portrayed as the overall villain to the story, but rather having a more nuanced take on the partner/drug-dealer persona often depicted in this type of media.
Another highlight was Night Shift‘s theatrical focus on the use of set interaction with the cast, which emphasised the indie nature of the performance. Throughout the play, Shaya would search through her bedroom floor, often tossing items across the floor into the audience, creating a more interactive atmosphere. This was furthered by the use of door-knocking and entrance of the characters from behind the audience. Trip scenes also often used darker, spot-light lighting, which helped differentiate between reality and hallucinations, but could have been merged to create a more experimental feel.
Overall, Night Shift did discuss topics that are relevant and important in the life of an after-teen, drawing upon feelings of inertia and instability, often felt by everyone. However, without relevant back-stories and a lack of innovative ideas, Night Shift often fell into the cliché and melodramatic, which was probably not the desired take-away that was meant for such eminent themes.