Theatre Editor Daniel Perks catches the latest production from one of central London's newest venues - Nightfall at the Bridge Theatre:

Oh, the futility of time as it stretches out before us, a void hungering to be filled with responsibility and purpose. And yet, when we do saturate it with routine and structure, we feel unsettled by the monotony. Is the grass always greener? Lou (Ophelia Lovibond) and Ryan (Sion Daniel Young) are well aware as to the verdancy of their homegrown farmland and still they yearn to break away and explore. Instead, they stagnate, slowly stunting and withering, trapped as they are in the purgatory of a failing homestead with overbearing mother Jenny (Claire Skinner) and the prospect of nothing but the same stretching out in front of them.

‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow/ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,’

Barney NorrisNightfall feels fruitless, a sense of foreboding that never materialises. Because if the storm were to suddenly break, at least that would be an event, an experience of note. Much of this is intended, incorporated into the production by Norris and director Laurie Sansom to give the illusion of occurrence without its requisite impact. But much is equally unintentional, a feeling that the deliberate lack of impetus is itself delivered without bite or confidence. The drudgery around Nightfall is predominantly an awkward delivery rather than an intended vacuum.

Nightfall Bridge Theatre

Sion Daniel Young, Claire Skinner, Ophelia Lovibond & Ukweli Roach (image courtesy of Manuel Harlan)

Rae Smith’s beautifully designed set is littered with detail. Rusting farm equipment hints at the staleness of this familial unit, precariously tacked together by Jenny’s grief and desperation. Norris sets up a series of fractious relationships, complex and delicately interwoven with subtext and past, all of which makes for an intriguing set of power dynamics. And yet we don’t ever see these truly realised, such is the disconnect between the audience and the actors. After overcoming a series of questionable accents, we are left with performances far too superficial to draw us in. Nightfall is a slow burner for sure, but its flame is dull and unilluminating.

Nightfall Bridge Theatre

Ukweli Roach & Ophelia Lovibond (image courtesy of Manuel Harlan)

As Ian William Galloway’s projected horizon slowly shifts and shimmers under Chris Davey’s lighting, the production concept lies in a feeling of restlessness. Gareth Williams’ composition and Christopher Shutt’s sound combine to provide constantly shifting sands; despite being stuck in their bubble, the characters’ world inexorably changes. But this change doesn’t realise itself in the action that unfolds upon stage. We watch Lou (Lovibond), fraught with indecision as past lover Pete (Ukweli Roach) returns into her life; we observe Jenny (Skinner) worrying about her little girl flying away, or her son taking over the family business as it limps onwards. And there are moments where looks between the actors speak volumes. But these are fleeting – the insinuations and undercurrents swiftly glide away and leave us with our own unsatisfying emptiness. We lack the opportunity to wonder what will happen next, in a play that depends upon our attention to add to its expansive atmosphere.

Nightfall Bridge Theatre

Claire Skinner (image courtesy of Manuel Harlan)

The family dynamic in Nightfall is potentially the most interesting concept, and yet it is the brotherly bond between Young and Roach that stands out – well acted, believable and providing that which the remainder of the narrative lacks. Young is stubborn as Ryan, following one madcap idea after another with a fervid hope that the latest scheme will deliver big on its promise. Roach’s Pete is earnest and honest, trying to keep the peace and make right on his seemingly shady past. Even his twists in the tale seem contrived, a culminating family feud that lacks urgency in its execution. Every emotion is unnaturally tempered and insufficiently prepared, such that the narrative feels full of exposition rather than organically unfolding.

Nightfall Bridge Theatre

Sion Daniel Young (image courtesy of Manuel Harlan)

This version of Nightfall is frustrating for all the wrong reasons. A similar premise was presented much more strongly only a few months prior at the Royal Court – Simon Longman’s Gundog, another play about unrelenting time. The difference is not so much in the script as it is in the realisation – Vicky Featherstone’s vision struck a balance, whereas Sansom’s misses the mark.




Nightfall runs at the Bridge Theatre until 26 May 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.