With its third show of its first season in Warwick, the Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre looks to transport audiences back to the Blitz in London during the heat of World War II and the stories of people who were left to pick up the pieces – but not necessarily in that order.
“The Night Watch,” a play based on a novel by Sarah Waters and adapted for the stage by English playwright Hattie Naylor, starts viewers off in 1947 following characters who have survived the bombing of London living in the shattered remains of what once was, and traverses back in time as the play “progresses” back to 1944, and then to 1941 close to the onset of the historic bombing campaign.
“It has some real great exciting challenges in that way,” said director Tony Estrella. “When you're dealing with a story that has German bombers and air raid sirens and explosions and many different locations, it has a cinematic feel to it but we have to do it on stage.”
Estrella said that the show hearkens back to a Shakespearean element of imagination on the part of the audience. The show, obviously, cannot incorporate real German Stuka bombers in its production, and is limited to one stage despite spanning over three separate, distinct time periods. However, Estrella insists that the epic scale of Waters’ original story is captured in the theatrical version.
“It's quite a remarkable feat,” he said.
Further, the new theater in Warwick provides additional opportunities that weren’t possible at the Gamm’s former location in the Pawtucket Armory. The adaptable size of the theater – it can be opened up to a large stage or partitioned off to create a more close-quarters set – has already shown its value.
“From ‘[Night of the] Iguana’ to ‘Gloria’ to this, all of them are very different productions,” Estrella said. “You’ll see how open it is, and how we're really using the breadth from wall to wall of the whole space. In this one, the design is gorgeous and there's a lot of negative space…we’re using the whole stage and there's a lot of little tricks in store. There is a wonderfully open and epic feel to the space.”
In addition to their own efforts and fundraising making the space in Warwick possible, the Gamm also got some more help from an outside source, as they received a Champlin Foundation grant of over $113,000 to upgrade their lighting, sound and technical equipment – money that Estrella said has already been put to use.
“I think we're going to really be able to serve the play in a way that we would have served differently in the other space,” he said.
As for the play itself, Estrella said that “The Night Watch” fits perfectly in with the other productions in the Gamm’s lineup this year, which have all had some connection to what American society is experiencing on a macro level today.
“It's a love story and story of resistance at a time when the fate of the world, or even just the West, was really in the balance,” he said. “I think that the story is really resonant for me right now because we're at a time where many people feel like things are in the balance and we face many existential threats...In this place, existential threats were personified by bombs dropping on their heads.”
“I hope that it will show we've endured far worse calamities in history,” he continued. “It’s about the power of compassion, kindness and decency and the power of love.”
The cast and crew are finishing up rehearsals and will begin preview performances on Jan. 17. The premiere is Jan. 22 and “The Night Watch” will run through Feb. 10. For ticket information, visit GammTheatre.org or call 723-4266.