Bridge Theatre, London – until 26 May 2018
Barney Norris’ previous plays have been well suited to the places in which they’ve found themselves, the studios of the Arcola and the Bush. And as a brand new space with a flexibility built into its auditorium, the Bridge Theatre has been playing with different styles for each of its opening three productions. But as the theatre moves to end-on to promenade to thrust, it doesn’t find the best match in Nightfall, directed here by Laurie Sansom.
Part of the problem lies in the innate intimacy of Norris’ writing. He has absolutely nailed his oeuvre of excavating the beauty in ordinary lives, often beset by grief, often in rural England, and it is to these themes he returns here again. A family in deepest Hampshire are still coming to terms with the death of its patriarch, what that means for the struggling farm on which they depend and fighting to determine what the future might hold for each of them.
There are moments when Norris perfectly captures the randomness and hopelessness of grief, the way it can poleaxe you years after the fact, the way it can dominate to the exclusion of everything else, and Ophelia Lovibond’s Lou is so good here. But these end up far too few and far between in a plot that labours to work in a Brexit theme into its family drama without ever upping the stakes to something genuinely gripping.
The production also feels marooned in this space. The thrust staging does no favours, Rae Smith’s design sits awkwardly on it and even as Chris Davey’s lighting intimates the falling of a long, dark night, so little atmosphere is generated here. Claire Skinner’s mother, longing to keep her family brood close together and willing to do anything to do it, doesn’t quite sell her sharply changeable nature.
Sion Daniel Young fares a little better as taciturn son Ryan, trapped by grief and impending poverty into rash action, and Ukweli Roach as his pal Peter, who is also romantically involved with Lovibond’s Lou, and proves by far the most interesting character. But the world here is small and intimate and the Bridge is neither of those things, the intricacies of Norris’ writing lost like the wafting smell of interval madeleines.