Night Slows Down – Language as superstructure. (Theatre Review)

Night Slows Down

Kings Cross Theatre with Don’t Look Away Theatre Company

November 17 – December 9, You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Ross Waldron

Apparent from the start in Night Slows Down, the new Australian work by Phillip James Rouse, is a language disparity between Sharon (Danielle King) and her brother Seth (Andre de Vanny) that reveals itself as familial breakdown or a Freudian style battle of siblings. Phillip Rouse is right to center the disintegration of the relationship around a work project, because it is here the language disruption takes place. For Seth the world occurs as a series of ‘I, we, one,’ human animate, or concrete inanimate contiguous with ‘I’ and for Sharon, a minimal sentence of the type ‘he, she, it,’ abstract inanimate plus a verb of condition or attribution allow her to reference a language function expanded to a extralinguistic context. Inside here, the different ways of structuring the utterance show a fickle distance from the enunciation parallel to the purpose of the discourse. Action, or narrative of action, carried out in the ‘world’ in the one case; manipulation of language with the purpose of defining linguistic ‘objects’ in the other. Seth’s distrust of his sister stems from her middle-class communication methods. To see her immigrant lover share the language he can’t wield is too much to bare. The inescapable bind for Seth (and his obvious references, the white faithful followers of Donald Trump) is that these various functions for language seem to be determined by the work status of the respondent. And Seth is undeniably part of a new working class. Sharon has the ability to make everything Seth says seem stupid. Is not this the very claim the white lower middle class claim today? That they are unheard and have lost their freedom of speech?

For the lower middle class (possibly today’s emerging working class – Marx’s wage earners) work remains a foreign language to itself. It is at best, contiguous with the speaking subject who can never be metamorphised into it since they do not possess it; whereas for the middle class, language itself is a production tool, in that its manipulation can produce grammars and theoretical concepts, as well as ideologies.  Theses dogmas are mediations required for mastery over the network of economic production. The existence of different types of discourse can then be interpreted not only as an effect of the position in which they are carried out and alienated, but also as a possible cause for the creation of the situation. The question that is never answered in Night Slows down, the question that causes the deaths of thousands of people, the question that is unanswered in our society today becomes: What connection can be established between a discourse linked to immediate experience and a discourse creating socio-cultural meditations? In a society where the flow of capital is linked to power, feminism and minority activist concerns can be wielded to simply transfer power under the guise of progressive thought. Here is where narratives can be problematic for the middle class. Of course, this has only become a problem while women and minorities have power – it was never questioned when the white male minority ruled – but that in itself encapsulates inherent complexities that allow for fascist uprising today.

This language discrepancy comes powerfully to the fore in Night Slows Down. It appears at all times that Sharon and Seth can’t hear each other, that their mutual positions are naturally antagonistic to the point of elimination. This problem plays itself out on the body of Martin who is essential as the ideological object for both. Phillip Rouse’s success here is the revelation of an unconscious agency conveyed by the articulation of subject, code, world and co-locutor that determines the dynamics of enunciation itself. Martin becomes the object whose status must be examined, not as object or referent of the utterance but as what is at stake in the functioning of discourse itself. To use theatre in this way reveals to us that the speaking subject is at one and the same time scene and actor, acted and acting. By watching Sharon, Seth and Martin we begin to understand why a desperately heated anger underpins the political discourse.


Phillip James Rouse has done well with this production, particularly in assembling a great cast he masterfully directs. By paring the world down into a single family, his multifarious points and perspectives frighteningly manifest in relatable scenarios. Anna Gardiner and Martelle Hunt’s production design has the unnerving ability to seamlessly transition from chic apartment or restaurant into an office or jail. Sian James-Holland does an interesting and astucious job with lighting design creating a frame that services almost like a beautiful light (sand) box filled with conflicting and opposing emotions. Performances are all on point, particularly Danielle King who manages to convince in a variety of unusual (lets hope) scenarios. She is well supported by Andre de Vanny who gives a chilling performance as an Hannah Arendt anti-hero (Banality of Evil) and Johnny Nasser who is dependably excellent as the persecuted Martin.

Night Slows Down is the kind of theatre that carries an eerie prophesy about it as it powerfully makes a verbal mix tape of the language of fascism; from our tortured past, our horrible present and a very possible future.