Nightfall at the Bridge Theatre
The place that shaped us will forever repel and attract us, a formidable gravity around which we begrudgingly revolve. In Barney Norris’s new play Nightfall, the push and pull of home and the colliding desires of its residents are the driving force.
A family teeters on the edge of change. It takes a friend coming out of prison to reveal that the children are outgrowing the life they’ve known and that their mother is capable of doing almost anything to bind them to her. The tension between the distastefully familiar and the risky beyond grows ever tauter.
This is reflected in Rae Smith’s set, a naturalistic farmhouse garden fallen into disrepair, which is both ugly and striking. A great pipe carrying oil dominates upstage and is echoed in the slick oiliness of the sky behind. The Bridge Theatre has employed another new layout for the auditorium, ensuring that no two visits to this all-singing, all-dancing new venue are alike. A thought: it may be poetically justifiable that the huge corrugated sky is an eyesore, but the pipe disappearing into it without an attempt at perspective is surely an oversight.
Often disarmingly touching, the script has its characters – now and again – sum up a feeling with satisfying brevity and honesty. Yet it’s also rich with subtext; when mum Jenny complains about the boys’ latest entrepreneurial exploits, is it the deed or the doer she’s denouncing? The disconnect between what’s said and what’s meant is used thrillingly throughout. Subtle shades of the Brexit mentality are uncovered in the change-averse parents, with small references to unwelcome passers-by and ungrateful recipients of charity.
At the play’s best, there’s something Miller-esque about the resentment between generations and the “sins of the father”. But at its worst, after a beautiful build-up, many of the reveals feel anticlimactic, relying on bombshells that we’ve heard too many times and which have become cliché.
Another gripe: while the mother and siblings Lou and Ryan are complex, Lou’s ex Pete seems the least rounded character, as if Norris isn’t so concerned with him. As a device for throwing the rest of the group into flux, he works a treat, but we don’t get to know him with quite the depth we should.
Despite a few creases, Nightfall traces an engaging and recognisable picture of familial dysfunction. As the set takes on a growing oppression, the human warmth remains and there are humour and insight to cherish.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Nightfall is at the Bridge from 1st May until 26th May 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.