Nightfall, The Bridge Theatre, London

THE shiny new Bridge Theatre, across the Thames from the Tower of London, between Tower Bridge and the City Hall, has chosen Barney Norris’s Nightfall as the third play in the opening season.

Expectations were high for the prolific young writer’s new work, once again set in the rural south and focussing on current threats to farming and to traditional family life.

Barney Norris was brought up in Salisbury, where his love for live theatre was established. His award-winning play Visitors is set on Salisbury Plain, and his Echo’s End was commissioned by the city’s Playhouse, where he worked as a student.

The new work, Nightfall, is set on an arable farm in Hampshire, a year after the death of Jenny’s husband and Lou and Ryan’s father. It follows them over a week in 2017, when their lives change forever.

If you have read the national reviews of the production, you will have noted the regret with which the writers criticise the play. And I am sorry to say I must join them.

The chief problem is one of scale. The flexible Bridge is a big theatre, and the  very wide thrust stage is dominated by a massive pipe running from offstage left into the sky/wall at the opposite side, designed by Rae Smith.

The story starts as the none-too-bright Ryan, burdened with the familial responsibility of running the failing farm, conspires with his old friend Pete and his sister Lou to make a hole in the pipe and syphon oil into the farm’s tank.

Jenny returns home unexpectedly just as they complete the project, and is horrified, though perhaps her main concerns are her antagonism to Pete, a new audio speaker and wine.

A story of mismanagement, misery and minor corruption unfolds as Jenny stoops to every trick in the book to keep her family obediently at home. Of course, she’s doomed to failure.

The youthful Claire Skinner, famous for building tension in her characters, plays Jenny. Costume designer Lydia Crimp has decided that this farmer’s wife (albeit arable not livestock) should be turned out of a catalogue. Even with an early morning hangover and shades, and looking a tad like Audrey Hepburn, she has brand new jeans!

Ophelia Lovibond, best known as Issy in W1A, had some powerful moments among the effing and blinding, and (I think?) said “mental” four times, perhaps in a nod to the BBC satire.

Ukweli Roach is perhaps the most rounded character as Pete, a boy who keeps his hopes intact in spite of a less than promising past.

And Sion Daniel Young is Ryan, whose grasp of planning law, common sense, breeze-blocks and mortar – and relationships – leave a huge amount to be desired. But the biggest millstone round his young neck is the knowledge of the farm’s parlous finances and the absolute need to do something sooner rather than later.

Nightfall has some memorable moments, with Norris’s celebrated insights into generational difficulties and the state of the nation in 2018.  But the scale is all wrong,

I look forward to seeing a more intimate production of Nightfall, one in which the director and designers have a better grasp of authentic rural life. Then, perhaps, it will be possible to judge the play itself.


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