That Night Follows Day

Bare Cheek Theatre Co presents 'The Night Follows Day' by Tim Etchells. Photos: Lee Robinson & Tony McCleane-Fay

Bare Cheek Theatre Co presents 'The Night Follows Day' by Tim Etchells. Photos: Lee Robinson & Tony McCleane-Fay

“That night follows day” is just one of the many truths we might tell our children. We might tell them that the sound they are frightened of is only the wind in the trees, and that everything’s going to be okay; to count to ten. We might teach them that certain words must not be said at all; that certain words can be said at home, in private, but not in front of other people. They, in return, promise not to say “asshole” or “motherfucker”. They promise to stick to the rules. 

Our parents teach us almost everything we know, but our children teach us more. They teach us more than we will ever know about ourselves, about our blatant hypocrisy, our double standards, and how we all risk turning into our parents. That Night Follows Day by Tim Etchells is a stark and simple play about the power and failure of language, how we are shaped and constrained by it; the kind of language we adults use, both thoughtfully and thoughtlessly, and the kind of language our children use, which is (whether we want to admit it or not) our language.

Bare Cheek Theatre CompanyA line of sixteen assorted children (including matching twins, a couple of Goths, a fairy, a footballer and an angry teen in pyjamas) ranging from age 8 to 14, gradually takes shape out of the darkness. The light illuminates their faces and their blank stares make for a slightly uncomfortable moment of interrogating silence. They eyeball us with an unreadable intent and already, we, the adults, can’t help feeling entirely responsible for what is about to happen.

It all begins innocently enough. One by one, in a seemingly arbitrary order, the children articulate the tender habits of parental affection: “You sing to us; you sit by the bed; you watch us when we’re sleeping,” and we glow with admitted familiarity. “Smile, and the whole world smiles with you,” they reiterate in a sing-song unison of overreacted smiles. They hold and fade. “Not for long,” I hear a nearby audience member whisper, as sixteen toothy smiles decline into a line of pursed juvenile scowls.

As anticipated, things get a little less innocent and the familiarity of what we begin to hear causes more of a blushing than a glow in our cheeks: “You teach us to choose our words.” Perhaps, but we can guess where this is going. “You tell us to watch our tongues.” Yes, it has been said, once or twice, but more often by our own parents, out of absolute necessity, one hopes. Then the angry teen in the pyjamas lets a commendable roar at us all: “You tell us not to yell and scream at people,” and the message is clear. So many of us shout at our children for shouting, curse at them for cursing, smack them for playing rough, or fight with them for IMG_1951-(1).jpegfighting with others. There are even those who tell them to shut it, to keep their little dirty hands clean and their big fucking mouths shut, that they know nothing, that they can’t spell, that they don’t understand, that they they’ll never understand, that they don’t have a clue, that they throw like girls, fight like weaklings, dress like boys and cry like stupid babies. And, after all is said and done, they have the cheek to ask their children for silence, that they need a bit of peace, to keep the noise down, or to put a bloody sock in it. Shame on them. Shame on us. Shame on our parents and our parents’ parents.

Etchell’s language is unadorned, wonderfully economic and hypnotically repetitive. Monotony is avoided, however, (for the activity on stage is, for the most part, minimal and static also) by the play’s hour-long length and by director Tony McCleane-Fay’s subtle yet effective repositioning of the children and their manipulation of chairs around the stage. Although the children recited this difficult script with well rehearsed accuracy, it did at times feel like we were watching a recital rather than a performance, overriding the opportunity for a more natural expression of meaning or interaction between the young performers on stage.

Despite that, its message – or more accurately its warning – is not only clear, it's crystal: Children miss nothing and remember everything.

Jennifer Lee

  • Review
  • Theatre

That Night Follows Day by Tim Etchells

7 - 10 Nov; 17 Nov, 2012

Produced by Bare Cheek Theatre Company
In Axis, Ballymun

Directed and designed by Tony McCleane

Sound: Olchan Kirwin

Music: Dead School

With: Aoife Cody Kane, Maria Cullen, Freya Innes, Soraya James, Louise Kehoe, Caoimhe Kennedy-Ryan, Ruth Lawlor, Sinead Maguire, Tiernan Messitt, Dearbhla Morgan, Meg McCormack, Caoimhe O’Keefe, James O’Leary, Lucy Proctor, David Ronan, Daragh Schokman