In Midnight Movie, Eve Leigh presents a universe of bedrooms where disabled people are unable to sleep due to the pain of having a body which is, right now, ‘glitching’. As they lie awake, this vanguard of would-be sleepers embark on a complicated cat-and-mouse game with the internet – trying to find an item of information, or an online interaction with someone else who is also awake, which may make the waking hours less agonising.
Choices are indistinguishable from demands. Information becomes currency. Consent a kind of sacrifice.
Rachel Bagshaw’s direction provides an accessible insight into Leigh’s concept of a ‘digital body’. A digital body is an avatar of the self, navigating pathways – sometimes planned, sometimes spontaneous – through the guts of the internet. This journey is refractory, and a host of characters and incidents are played by Avatar 1 (Nadia Nadarajah, who signs in BSL), and Avatar 2 (Tom Penn, who narrates via speech). Nadarajah and Penn are both fantastic performers who balance out the agony of the subject matter with the refreshing humour so often exhibited by suffers of chronic pain as a survival mechanism.
Leigh’s construction of digital spaces neither condemns nor exalts the distractions that the online world can offer. Some sections of Midnight Movie are very, very dark. Others are light-hearted, others are surreal. The internet is of course as invariably complex as the information available within it, and Cécile Trémolières’ design of a bedroom of endless surfaces captures some of this complexity. In turn, Joshua Paro and Sarah Readman deploy fascinating and often uncomfortable projections alongside a fully captioned performance. Human bodies and communication styles are unlimited in Midnight Movie, and Bagshaw’s direction recognises this fact and embraces it.
Like a B-Movie, a Midnight Movie is a form of film which enables a kind of sexualised everything. Unlike a feature film, they are not to be taken wholly seriously, and because of this the rules are different. This is the landscape within which Leigh superimposes her digital wanderers, arguing that the formal differences between a Feature Film / Midnight Movie also epitomises the predicaments of being disabled in an abled world. But those who play with the Devil’s tools will be brought by degrees to wield his sword – and in Midnight Movie, the sword cuts deep and with impunity. Choices are indistinguishable from demands. Information becomes currency. Consent a kind of sacrifice.
Leigh’s landscape takes time to grow, and, much like a physical body under duress, often feels fragmented. Sometimes the narrative through-line feels almost unfollowable, but this is where Bagshaw’s inimitable direction swoops in to coordinate chaos with perceptive grace – and Midnight Movie does, eventually, offer its narrative harvest in one massive yield. In a sudden gear-change, Bagshaw stitches together in one event (perhaps, one line) Leigh’s disparate images and a timeline of developing characters suddenly feels resolved. It is structurally brave and brilliant and here, Leigh presents us with an awkward symbiosis & unhappy hierarchy. Whereas we would like to believe that the physical world drives the happenstances of the digital, in Leigh’s (very realistic) universe, the digital absolutely drives the physical. It is the physical world that is along for the ride, and Leigh’s script demands us to question how many physical actions happening right now across the world, are happening only to appease private digital dependencies.
To all the digital ghosts, reads the dedication in Eve Leigh’s playscript. And it is fitting – Midnight Movie is a haunting exegesis of the untold lives and interactions which happen online.