Francesca Millican-Slater's work tends to be autobiographical: Me, Myself and Miss Gibbs traced her journey across the UK in search of the recipient of an enigmatic postcard, while Forensics of a Flat unfolded the history of her peculiar home in Birmingham, a former office above a shop. The same is sort-of true of this show, but only in its starting point: as documented on the accompanying blog, she experiences chronic insomnia, and the stories she tells over the course of the hour are a reflection of the fantastical thoughts that plague her through the night.
Insomnia is a common problem – the NHS estimates that one in three people in the UK experience it regularly – and on the surface Millican-Slater's stories evoke the banal: one features a couple in a supermarket; another, a couple disturbed by the insistent loud music played by their neighbours after hours. A man in one story attempts to find friendship among his colleagues in a pork-pie factory; a man in another strikes up conversation with a cafe owner and a newspaper vendor on his early morning walks. However, each vignette quickly takes a Tales of the Unexpected detour towards the weird. The factory worker is demoted when he constructs a pastry penis; the street blares with noise as neighbours compete to play their own favoured style of music at the highest volume. The tone is more often kind than sinister, particularly in the tale of a mysterious matchmaker, a man who stalks people he knows to be single, then attempts to pair them up, functioning as an “analogue Tinder”.
Sleeplessness is a lonely and often furious place, and many of the characters in these stories are lonely and furious, too – particularly those already in couples. The overlap between insomnia and depression is suggested in an undercurrent hum of desire for meaning, or purpose, or connection, most audible in the story about the man who begins each day walking his neighbourhood, convinced that the world would fall apart if he didn't. The blue light that bathes Millican-Slater's face speaks of the computer screens that promise connection but only in isolation. Listening to her, the audience sit in isolation, too: joined together by her velveteen voice, spinning a web of strangeness. (MC)
Stories To Tell in the Middle of the Night is on at 10.15 at Summerhall until August 28. See venue for accessibility information - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/stories-to-tell-in-the-middle-of-the-night
Basic insomnia facts: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Insomnia/Pages/Introduction.aspx
On the relationship between insomnia, anxiety and depression: https://sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/content/what-causes-insomnia
On the cultural rise of lack of sleep: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/wellbeing/10304984/Is-there-any-way-to-cure-insomnia.html
On mindfulness as a cure for insomnia: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jan/09/sleep-how-to-beat-insomnia
The blog accompanying the show: http://www.storiestotellinthemiddleofthenight.com/