You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Forty Winks

Kevin Elyot is a dramatist obsessed by obsession and by narratives so compressed that if your attention wanders for a second, you risk missing the point.

Diana - Anastasia Hille Don - Dominic Rowan Danny - Stephen Kennedy Hermia, Celia - Carey Mulligan Charlie - Paul Ready Howard - Simon Wilson

Kevin Elyot is a dramatist obsessed by obsession and by narratives so compressed that if your attention wanders for a second, you risk missing the point. It’s a form of throwing down the gauntlet, then, for Elyot to call his latest play “Forty Winks,” especially since the 70-minute one-act has arrived in an always intriguing if overdeliberate staging from Katie Mitchell, better known for her work on Chekhov and the Greeks. Making a rare foray into working with living writers, Mitchell has chosen a script in which events from the past live on in the present: Key moments, in Elyot’s view of things, don’t lessen in importance over time, instead multiplying out across, well, some 40 years.

“Forty Winks” is told in four scenes that cut back and forth in time, while always referring to things that took place well before the play’s start. At the outset, we find Don (Dominic Rowan) in an anonymous suburban London hotel room, surprised by a knock on the door from the abiding love of his life, Diana (Anastasia Hille), whose young brother-in-law Charlie (Paul Ready) has just died. Their nerves are frayed not just by Charlie’s untimely death, but by the unspoken mutual awareness that Don has something or someone concealed in the bathroom.

The next scene rewinds events by a few weeks. Diana and her prickly husband, Howard (Simon Wilson), are dining with Howard’s younger brother, Charlie, whose cardiologist-boyfriend Danny (Stephen Kennedy) lies quasi-comatose nearby, the victim of one too many narcotics during a night of clubbing. Onto the veranda emerges Don, whom Diana has not seen for 14 years. “I was in the vicinity,” Don explains, which is Elyot-speak for the power of memory to prevent any possibility of moving on. (Howard invokes that very phrase near the finish.)

Scene three itself moves on directly from scene one, revealing the identity of the person earlier heard but not seen.

By the fourth scene, it is 16 years later, and Don nearing 50 and now working for Unicef (the choice of job can only be ironic in context) has once again come unexpectedly to call. The only problem: Diana has left Howard, who sits confined to a wheelchair on the veranda, fast asleep.

Starting with Don, whose mind, like his desires, clearly won’t ever come to rest, wakefulness (or not) defines all the characters: Diana and Howard also have a narcoleptic teen daughter (Carey Mulligan).

“Forty Winks” frequently rewards the close attention it demands, even if one can’t help feeling yet again that Elyot has written a jigsaw puzzle play sometimes more interesting to piece together than it is to watch. Perhaps Ian Rickson, who delivered the knockout National staging in 1998 of Elyot’s “The Day I Stood Still,” might have found the pulse behind a precision that is almost suffocatingly exact.

Mitchell’s analytical skills are second to none, but she’s not helped by some slow set changes (the design is by Hildegard Bechtler) that work against the eerily dreamy quality the proceedings ought to have.

Ready stands out as a more febrile version of the obsessive Don. But for a play about a clamped-down passion so intense it would deny any of us sleep, Rowan is rather disappointingly closed off.

Forty Winks

Royal Court Theater; 395 Seats; £27.50 ($51) Top

Production: A Royal Court Theater presentation of a play in one act by Kevin Elyot. Directed by Katie Mitchell.

Creative: Sets, Hildegard Bechtler; costumes, Iona Kenrick; lighting, Paule Constable; sound, Gareth Fry. Opened Nov. 3, 2004; reviewed Nov. 6. Running time: 1 HOUR, 10 MIN.

Cast: Diana - Anastasia Hille Don - Dominic Rowan Danny - Stephen Kennedy Hermia, Celia - Carey Mulligan Charlie - Paul Ready Howard - Simon Wilson

More Legit

  • Hamilton West End Production.

    'Hamilton' Panic Over Mistaken Reports of Gunfire Injures Three in San Francisco

    Three people were injured after mistaken reports of an active shooter at a San Francisco production of “Hamilton” caused attendees to flee the theater. CNN reported that a woman experienced a medical emergency — later determined to be a heart attack — during a scene in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play wherein Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is shot on [...]

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

  • Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    With an HBO documentary that places strong allegations of abuse against Michael Jackson premiering in two weeks, the late singer’s estate announced Thursday that it’s canceling a scheduled Chicago test run of a jukebox musical about him. The estate and its producing partner in the musical, Columbia Live Stage, said that they’re setting their sights on going [...]

  • All About Eve review

    West End Review: Gillian Anderson and Lily James in 'All About Eve'

    To adapt a crass old adage: it’s “All About Eve,” not “All About Steve.” Stripping Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s sharp-witted screenplay about a waning theater star of its period trappings, Ivo van Hove’s stage adaptation fine-tunes its feminism for our own sexist age — image-obsessed, anti-aging, the time of Time’s Up. Rather than blaming Lily James’ [...]

  • Adam Shankman

    Listen: Why Adam Shankman Directs Every Movie Like It's a Musical

    Director Adam Shankman’s latest movie, the Taraji P. Henson comedy “What Men Want,” isn’t a musical. But as one of Hollywood’s top director-choreographers of musicals and musical sequences, he approaches even non-musicals with a sense of tempo. Listen to this week’s podcast below: More Reviews Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink' Film [...]

  • Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella'

    How much can you change “Cinderella” before it is no longer “Cinderella”? In the case of choreography maestro Matthew Bourne — who, it should be said, first unveiled his spin on the classic folk tale some 22 years ago — the music is most certainly “Cinderella” (Prokofiev’s 1945 score, to be exact), but the plot [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content