This sensitive play about the impact of grief on one family’s life might be slow to unravel but is completely relatable and engaging.
With Nightfall, Barney Norris has created an intriguing play that not only explores the impact grief has on one family’s life but also how grief can destroy hopes and dreams to change the direction that life takes you in.
The story sees mother Jenny (Claire Skinner), daughter Lou (Ophelia Lovibond) and son Ryan (Sion Daniel Young) struggling to find their way through the grief after the loss of their father and husband. Along the way frustration begins to seep through as their emotions begin to hit the surface and when Lou is offered a way to move forward with the help of her boyfriend Pete (Ukweli Roach) it becomes clear the grief will either make or divide the family.
Through Laurie Sansom’s sensitively directed production, the audience are gradually pulled into this tormented family’s story through the rawness and at times bluntness of the conversations captured well through some nicely judged performances from the cast. The production perfectly highlights the way that Jenny’s refusal to let go of the past and move forward becomes increasingly frustrating for her children, making the audience long for both of them to break free and find their way forward.
However, Sansom’s production also highlights the play’s flaws in terms of the ways in which (particularly in the first act) conversations seem to be repetitive with no one gaining the upper hand or progressing the story further, slowing down the pace which might irritate some people. In this sense it could be edited down slightly to make it sharper and even more poignant.
But this does change in the second act, which is sharper and adds a different dimension to the play thanks to a revelation that is made involving Pete’s time in prison. This then leads to accusations flying about, analysing and exposing each character’s weaknesses that makes for fascinating viewing but perhaps is not emphasised enough in the production.
Rae Smith’s gorgeously designed set places the audience as close to the action as possible, allowing them to feel the full force of what is unfolding in front of them. This is emphasised by Chris Davey’s lighting, which softens effectively at the emotional segments and sharpens as the rawness of the character’s reactions break through.
Meanwhile, in terms of performances Claire Skinner does well as Jenny, a mother desperate to hold onto her children and keep the family together. She brings out the emotionally manipulative and needy side to the character well (particularly in her interactions with Lou), with plenty of sharpness but with enough vulnerability in her eyes to show that its the grief making her act this way.
Ophelia Lovibond is also excellent as Lou – frustrated with the direction in which her life has taken she do anything to escape her home. Lovibond gives a nicely balanced performance that shows her character’s understanding of her mother’s plight but also her need to break free and start her own life.
It feels as though perhaps Sion Daniel Young and Ukweli Roach make less of an impact with their characters which seem slightly underwritten – particularly when Pete learns what Ryan knew about his arrest which is almost too quickly resolved (surprising given the enormity of the revelation).
Yes, the play is rough around the edges and could use a bit of editing but there is no denying that the topics that it covers is perceptively portrayed through this family’s story. It is a thought-provoking and beautifully presented production that shows the impact of grief in a subtle way.
By Emma Clarendon
Nightfall continues to play at the Bridge Theatre until the 26th May. For more information visit: https://bridgetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/nightfall/.