Nighttime. It’s not exactly a small concept: half of all time on earth is night. That’s a pretty massive theme to choose for a show, particularly if it’s a production that uses song, dance, circus performance, film and acting. With such scope for subject matter and such eclectic performance styles, you wouldn’t necessarily expect Whatever Gets You Through the Night to cohere. Yet it defies the odds: not only is it funny, human and beautiful, it somehow manages to get something of the spirit of nighttime into an hour and three quarters of performance.
In form, the closest thing I can liken this production to is a variety show, but that doesn’t do it justice at all. Sections in different performance styles are woven together with live music and film clips projected onto an enormous screen at the back of the stage. These sections vary from a sketch set in the brain of a drunk man trying to make a sincere connection with a woman at a party, to a beautiful dance on circus silks about getting to sleep after a long night. But what makes the show so successful is that it doesn’t just focus on what tourist guides call ‘nightlife’. Sure, there’s a eulogy to chips and cheese, but there’s also a woman in labour leaving answerphone messages for her baby’s father and an old man arriving at Loch Lomond at dawn. This production aims to engage not just with the obvious associations of nighttime, but with anything any human might be doing after the Sun has gone down.
While mostly very engaging, in a show this eclectic it’s hardly surprising that not every section is of the same standard. The chips and cheese song, for example, isn’t really as funny as it might have been, and a section which involved simply acoustic guitar and phrases like ‘the thin time between words’ written on a screen had me desperate for the next part to begin. This doesn’t change the fact, though, that more than one section had my eyes filling with tears. As a whole, Whatever Gets You Through the Night is moving, human and funny. Its final stroke of genius is that it finishes just after midnight, letting you out onto darkened streets that seem newly significant and suddenly beautiful.