Bridge Theatre, London – until 26 May 2018
Continuing the Bridge Theatre’s inaugural season, and following on from Young Marx and Julius Caesar, is Barney Norris’ new play Nightfall, playing for a strictly limited four-week run. Norris is playwright and novelist, whose debut play Visitors won him the 2014 Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright.
It’s been a few months since Des died, leaving behind his wife Jenny and children Ryan and Lou. Ryan has been tasked with taking over the running of the farm and, seeing the dire financial straits they’re in, has started making use of a somewhat dodgy cost-cutting method. Meanwhile, Lou’s getting itchy feet (she had only really moved back home to help out) and Jenny is struggling to maintain any control over her diminished family. To top it off, Pete (Ryan’s best mate and Lou’s ex) is back on the scene, hoping to pick up where he left off. Can they find any way out of the rut they’re in?
The old adage is “write what you know”; Norris himself grew up in the countryside, so it’s quite a familiar set-up for him (although the play is set in Hampshire as opposed to his native Wiltshire). Rather than being an intensely dramatic affair, it’s more a quietly affecting piece that has the potential to touch anyone – the chances are you’ll recognise part of yourself in any one of the four characters. It runs at two hours 20 minutes (with a 20-minute interval) but I feel like the break does it more harm than good, as it loses a bit of momentum and isn’t really punchy enough to recover. I would actually prefer it to run straight through (it has tiny pauses as we move from one evening to the next) and keep building up the claustrophobic feeling of being stuck in a life they don’t want.
For me, this would make the outcome more of a release than it is in its current state – an interval gives you too much time to try and anticipate where it might be going and what could end up happening, which is the enemy of this kind of introspective play. While it does take a little time to get going, the first act is the stronger of the two as it meanders towards a conclusion of sorts.
This first season has definitely shown how versatile the auditorium is, as Nightfall brings a thrust performance space into the pit. Rae Smith’s design (which also features a massive oil pipe cutting right through the farmland and out towards the seating area) is detailed and has an incredible authenticity about it – and that’s not just down to the real grass being used! The backdrop is particularly stunning, brilliantly displaying the time of day that subtly changes as a scene progresses. Chris Davey’s lighting design also comes into play here, beautifully highlighting key moments of the piece.
There are strong performances from the cast of four, who really do justice to the material. Ukweli Roach & Sion Daniel Young are a great pair, and believable as best friends Pete & Ryan. Jenny is not going to win any awards for ‘Mum of the Year’ any time soon, with her constant attempts to manipulate her children’s lives just to keep them near her, but Claire Skinner manages to present her as sympathetically as possible – so, despite everything, you can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness when she knows she’s gone too far. The standout performance comes from Ophelia Lovibond; at first Lou is quiet & tries her best not to upset anyone, but when she finds her voice she realises that she is capable of living her own life and doing what’s best for her. Lovibond’s voice cracks with emotion and you feel her presence growing stronger & stronger as the play progresses.
Claire Skinner and Sion Daniel Young in Nightfall
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan
My verdict? A subtle affair that is funny and quietly affecting – the production is beautifully designed and features some outstanding performances.
Nightfall runs at the Bridge Theatre until 26 May 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.
Tags:Barney Norris, Bridge Theatre, Chris Davey, Claire Skinner, London, Nightfall, Off West End, Ophelia Lovibond, Rae Smith, review, Sion Daniel Young, theatre, Ukweli RoachCategories:all posts, review, theatre
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