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The Theatreguide.London Review

Bridge Theatre  Spring 2018

Four people on a failing farm try to cope with pains from the past and uncertainties about the future. And the nicest thing about Barney Norris's new play is that that is actually all it is about. 

There's no sociopolitical agenda, no Marxist, feminist or anti-American thesis just the small but moving story of what it is like to be these particular people at this particular moment. 

(Actually, Norris might disagree. An essay in the programme suggests that he thinks the play is about the evils of a capitalist system that threatens these people's livelihood and sense of value. But trust me, he's wrong.) 

The weakest thing about Nightfall is that it is the sort of play in which everyone explains everything they're thinking and feeling in clear declarative statements, leaving the audience with nothing to discover or figure out for themselves. 

Even a few plot twists that are withheld from us for a while are telegraphed long in advance so there are no real surprises. 

On a rundown farm live a mother and her adult son and daughter, visited frequently by the son's buddy. Father died within a year, and the family are still mourning. Buddy and daughter were a couple, but the combination of her grief and his going to prison for a short term has separated them. 

The couple slowly feel their way back to each other, and both daughter and son begin thinking about leaving the dying farm. 

But this unleashes an unexpected viciousness in mother, who ruthlessly uses every tool of manipulation, guilt-tripping, lying, threatening and emotional (and practical) blackmail to keep her children tied to her. 

She is so shamelessly extreme in her methods that when the playwright finally gives her the opportunity to express the deep fears that drive her typically, by spelling them all out for us the actress has to struggle to win back even a bit of the sympathy the character had spent the play forfeiting. 

The play offers an unusual challenge to actors and director Laurie Sansom in giving them too little to do. 

Except for that delayed revelation by the mother and a secret about the buddy's imprisonment, everything is told to us, with little need for the performers to show or hint at anything, or even to develop much in the way of created personalities. 

As the mother, Claire Skinner has the showiest role, the woman repeatedly topping herself with one outrageous manipulative ploy after another, and Skinner's greatest challenge is to keep her from turning into a cartoonish Wicked Witch Of The West. 

Sion Daniel Young (son), Ophelia Lovibond (daughter) and Ukweli Roach (buddy) have little more to do than attempt to differentiate among three mildly varying ways of trying to resist the mother's darkness. 

Nightfall is a play that simultaneously invites you in by declaring the lives of these unremarkable character to be worthy of your attention and keeps you at arms' length by doing all your thinking for you.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Nightfall - Bridge Theatre 2018

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