Playwright Hattie Naylor tells DIVA why she’s chosen to adapt Sarah Waters’ classic novel for the stage


Olivier-nominated playwright Hattie Naylor’s stage adaptation of The Night Watch is the first revival of the novel since 2016. Currently touring the UK, the play will take you back to 1940s London, following the lives of Kay, Helen and Viv – are you ready? We certainly are.

DIVA: What inspired you, personally, to adapt The Night Watch for the stage? 

HATTIE NAYLOR: I was originally commissioned by Manchester Royal Exchange – and then I read the book. I was utterly captivated by Sarah’s writing; the poignancy of themes within the book and the atmospheric and compelling world. She places you right inside a period, her descriptions of the Blitz make you feel you are standing inside of it.

How are you dealing with the narrative structure of the original? Is the stage version told in reverse chronological order as well?

I’ve kept to the original chronological nature of the book. It is, I think, clear in that the characters can only know certain information at set times within the storytelling, so even without showing what year we are in, the audience can see that we are moving backwards.

What did you find most challenging about adapting the original text?

The quantity of characters. We had to reduce the number simply because there are too many stories for the audience to keep a hold of, so I jettisoned the more familiar character, which was Reggie the philandering husband. You also need to be prepared to do solid research, but most important is understanding the period that the writer is in rather than the period the book is in. Sarah is writing in our own period, with the sensibilities of western Europe and this makes adaptation considerably easier. You then need to understand why a book is a classic, and its core meaning. This is what I have attempted to do with The Night Watch. 

Izabella Urbanowicz and Phoebe Pryce in The Night Watch. Casting Photo by Mark Douet.

Do you show the abortion on stage?

We show the moment just after the abortion, when Reggie has left Viv to fend for herself, and Kay risks losing her job to save her. This is one of the pivotal moments in the story, showing Kay’s courage and also explaining the exchange of the ring at the beginning of story. It’s also very dramatic, with Viv arriving on stage bleeding and Mickey initially refusing to help once she realises that Viv has had a backstreet abortion. 

The novel came out in 2006. As every adaptation is a reinterpretation, which contemporary elements can be found in the play?

The book is about betrayal and love. These are universal. I believe The Night Watch is a classic as Sarah delves into these universal themes with such heart and depth. 

How do queer women’s struggles today relate to the stories of the play’s protagonists in the 1940s?

There are, as many of your readers know, many countries in which homosexuality remains illegal and, in some cases, is punishable by death. The struggle is not over. What Sarah has created is empathy within writing, broadening understanding. There are still gay couples that feel the need to hide their love for one another within this country. This can become utterly isolating and painful when the woman or man that you have shared a life with suddenly dies and, if you are not married (and in some case even if you are) you can find yourself unwelcome within the process of shared grief. So, this issue even in Europe, is not fully resolved. 

Do you feel plays about queer women’s stories are increasing? 

I believe in good storytelling. This is an astonishing book, it just happens to have characters within the story that are gay. But any book that attempts to address prejudice and our understanding is doing something interesting, The Night Watch just happens to be a phenomenal book as well. 

Tickets for The Night Watch are available now. For dates and tickets click here.

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