Paul T Davies reviews Barney Norris’s play Nightfall now playing at the Bridge Theatre.
The Bridge Theatre
9 May 2018
Three productions in and the Bridge Theatre is still the star of the show. Nightfall sees the theatre reconfigured into a thrust stage, and the dynamic between stage and audience is shifted again, this really is a wonderful space. However, for Barney Norris’s four handed rural drama, it also exposes the limitations of the script, if feels swamped by the venue, and the characters are not fully formed to realise the potential of the script.
This is no rural chocolate box idyll; the family are still struggling to come to terms with the death of the father in 2016. Mum Jenny is unable to move on, sliding into debt, heading towards alcoholism whist clinging to her newly idealised visions of her husband and the past. Her children, Ryan and Lou, epitomise Generation Rent, unable to escape or move on without the financial security that will always elude them. Best friend Pete, former boyfriend of Lou, comes back into their lives when he is released from prison following an assault, and he and Lou rekindle their relationship.
Now, I like a theatrical metaphor as much as the next theatre goer, but here an oil pipeline that divides the farm, that was put in, it transpires, by the father mainly to spite a neighbouring farmer, may as well have had Brexit painted on the side of it. The constant discussions about whether to leave or remain on the land also become a little tedious, and the play begins with Ryan and Pete siphoning oil from the pipeline to provide a much needed income to clear the debts. The first act is terribly unfocussed, but ends with a rather lovely, spontaneous proposal that offers Lou her way out of the farm, by moving to Dubai with Ryan.
The cast are excellent, and work hard to cover over the inconsistencies of the script. With a role pitched somewhere between grief stricken widow and over manipulating matriarch, Claire Skinner does well to anchor Jenny in reality, particularly in expressing her anguish at being left alone. Ophelia Lovibond captures the yearning of Lou to move away, to begin some sort of life away from her roots, where a hug can feel like a chain. Sion Daniel Young is excellent as Ryan, conveying a desperate optimism whilst revealing an awareness of the reality of the situation; he is the one that could save the farm. As Pete, Ukweli Roach is perfect as a young man given a second chance and determined to take it. I just feel that Norris doesn’t successfully bring things to a dramatic high, the characters are forgiven their flaws and ultimately the stakes are not risen.
Laurie Sansom’s production is, however, well paced, and the design by Rae Smith is excellent, and Norris has some excellent one liners. Ultimately, however, this feels like a play better suited to the intimacies of the Dorfman or the Royal Court Upstairs, (where the bleaker but more effective rural play Gundog performed earlier this year), and it does raise the question of how well Laura Linney’s solo performance in My Name is Lucy Barton, (up next at the Bridge), will play.