The award-winning Barney Norris' new play is a triumph at London's newest theatre.
Directed by Laurie Sansom, Nightfall paints a vivid picture of a grieving family attempting to hold itself together after the death of the father.
The setting is a quiet farm in southern England, where the dark shadows of the characters’ pasts hang over them. The solid cast of four drink and talk the hours away as dusk falls and they are forced to face their futures.
But in the wake of their collective grief, a painful stagnation presides over the family as they attempt to move on. As the tagline says, how do you make a future when you can’t escape the past?
What is Nightfall about?
Jenny and her two children, Ryan and Lou, live on a farm in southern England. Their father has been dead for two years, but much more has changed too.
Ryan is now the head of the farm, trying to make the best for the life he has been dealt. Lou’s ex-boyfriend, Pete, is also back on the scene – returning to the area after a stint in prison for punching and disabling a young boy on a night out with Ryan and their father.
For Jenny, Pete’s return has huge consequences, not least because she recognises the need in her daughter to escape the life on the farm and the way out Pete represents; but also because of the dark secrets that she, Pete and Ryan have been keeping from Lou about what really happened on the fateful night that changed their lives forever.
Who stars in Nightfall?
Outnumbered star Claire Skinner heads the cast as the matriarch Jenny, lost in grief and desperate to cling onto a past life that is now unattainable. As her children, Ophelia Lovibond shines as Lou and gets much of the most to do, while Sion Daniel Young is perfectly cast as the introverted, troubled Ryan.
Ukweli Roach rounds out the cast as Pete, a man struggling to come to terms with the fact the family he has built for himself don’t seem to want him around anymore.
What can audiences expect?
Norris’ play is strikingly effective. It opens with a slightly jovial tone that slowly shifts and gives way to the dark undertones that pepper the narrative – the impact is that Nightfall is something of a slow burn, but the strength of the denouement is all the more powerful because of it.
The cast are on fine form. Lovibond is especially good, while Roach and Young are particular effective in the first act – firmly establishing the symbiotic relationship between the two boys and Lou. Skinner, meanwhile, has really sunk her teeth in the role by the end of act one, so that come the interval, you’re desperate for the show to just keep going.
Rae’s Smith set is especially striking too. The oil pipe that backdrops the set is a marvel to look at, stretching offstage as if goes on forever, much like the characters’ endless grief. The screens that light up the back wall – which shift from dusk to twilight as the action unfolds – are wonderfully hypnotic, and there’s good use of the rest of the space too: real grass, the pergola and sun loungers – all evoking the crisp balmy evening of a British summer (it helped we saw the show on the hottest day of the year, too!)
In many ways, the Bridge Theatre at large bolsters the production’s quality as well; it’s a stunning space. Founded by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr on leaving the National Theatre after 12 years, The Bridge’s aim is to focus on the commissioning and production of new shows, as well as staging the occasional classic. It feels very National. And Nightfall could easily have been performed there, say at the Dorfman.
The fact that Nightfall is on at the Bridge Theatre, in an auditorium more the size of Lyttelton feels both a bold and brave move by Hytner – but the impact is that it feels like a very exciting time for new British theatre.
Ultimately though, the play’s the thing, and Nightfall feels like a quiet triumph. Both funny and witty, it’s also somber and moody in tone and plays on themes such as the monopoly of grief, when is too soon to move on, and whether your memory of someone is sacrosanct or if it can be altered after they’re gone.
They’re all powerful concepts, but Norris’ writing is so well crafted that the dialogue feels totally believable and absolutely intoxicating – the exact feeling you have when you’re overwhelmed by grief.
What else do I need to know?
Nightfall is now playing at the Bridge Theatre until 26 May 2018.
Tickets for Nightfall are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.