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Review Round-Ups

Did the critics stay awake for Nightfall?

Laurie Sansom directs a cast including Ophelia Lovibond and Claire Skinner in Barney Norris' new play

Claire Skinner and Sion Daniel Young
© Manuel Harlan

Matt Trueman, WhatsOnStage

★★

"You can't move for Brexit metaphors in Barney Norris' Nightfall... so intent on summing up the state of the nation, it almost forgets how to function as a play."

"[Nightfall] might manage more humanity if Laurie Sansom's staging weren't quite so old-fashioned – and not in an ironic, backwards-looking way either."

"Sansom's cast are certainly characterful... Lovibond brilliantly conveys the bungee chord pull of home and family while itching for a fresh start. Claire Skinner is skittish and half-there, but she struggles to summon the agony of grief.

"Even so, the rhythms are out: Sansom goes heavy on sentiment and light on dramatic flashpoints, and this farming drama gets bogged down by Brexit."

Michael Billington, Guardian

★★★

"...much as I liked the play and its added element of social rage, I felt it would have benefited from a more intimate staging than this handsome new venue can provide."

"Students of Chekhov will be quick to recognise familiar themes. Since the only hope for the debt-ridden farm is a property company's plan to build 20 new houses on the land, we are clearly in Cherry Orchard country. There is even a hint of Uncle Vanya in Norris' stress on the need for stoic endurance in times of trouble."

"Good as Laurie Sansom's production is on psychological detail, words sometimes get lost on the Bridge's big stage. There is, however, no question about the quality of some fine performances... Sion Daniel Young as Ryan and Ukweli Roach as Pete catch the troubled nature of an unequal male friendship."

"Even if it would have gained from being seen in a studio theatre, there is much to relish in Norris's poignant study of rural decay and desperation."

Ophelia Lovibond and Claire Skinner
© Manuel Harlan

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

★★★

"Achingly melancholic as it all is, there's something a bit by-numbers about a first half that cranks up the Chekhovian elegy and rural decline to 11 without really allowing anything particularly startling to happen, at least not until the giddy rush of an endearingly inept proposal before the interval."

"In the second half, though, Nightfall grows fangs, and Norris seriously screws with our sympathies."

"This is largely done via the wondrous [Claire] Skinner, magnificent as the petty, desperately frightened Jenny... Ophelia Lovibond is impressively intense as the traumatised Lou; Sion Daniel Young brings a dazed charisma to Ryan... and as Pete, the most normal of the bunch, Ukweli Roach is good as a man biting his tongue so hard he's practically eating his own lower jaw."

"There are some problems: Laurie Sansom's production has an impressively massive set from Rae Smith, with a beautiful, Turner-ish sky, but there are a couple of moments where the actors really struggle to be heard in the cavernous space."

Ann Treneman, The Times

★★

"I was frustrated by the practicalities of this play. There are no farming rhythms..."

"Laurie Sansom directs a play that is uneven and, in the first half, drifts into lackadaisical..."

"Claire Skinner plays Jenny, a woman who may be grieving but who is also deeply manipulative. She spends much of the first half drinking white wine and dancing to Fleetwood Mac. Enough already, I thought."

"Is this play about land, family, grief, pilfering or the North Star? (Rae Smith has created a fantastic sky set behind that pipeline back garden.) Some in the audience did not care enough to find out as they left at the interval."

"It did all spark into life in the second half... But it never felt convincing in terms of its setting and the people. I cannot see one farmer in Britain going to this play and feeling anything other than bewilderment."

Sion Daniel Young, Ophelia Lovibond and Claire Skinner
© Manuel Harlan

Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard

★★★

"As in his previous work, Norris imagines people straining to cling on to their dreams and some semblance of individuality... At the same time it ponders the legacy of 2016's Brexit vote."

"Images of division and detachment are underscored in Laurie Samson's production, which is dominated by a giant stretch of raised oil pipeline — the most imposing feature of a design by Rae Smith that shimmers whenever the sun dips."

"There are some trenchant lines and well-judged moments of melancholy, but the characters don't have enough texture, and in this large venue the story's essential slightness feels overexposed. It would work better in a more intimate space."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph

★★

"[Barney Norris], we're told, is a writer of rare sensitivity, compassion and insight intent on exploring overlooked terrain: backwater England at a time of immense change."

"No one wants to squash creative promise. And yet Nightfall strikes me as a disappointing dip in the thus-far accomplished programme at the all-new Bridge, and it does no one any favours to pretend otherwise."

"As a family drama, it's pedestrian and unpersuasive. As a reflection on the pressures facing the rural community, it's like an underwhelming episode of The Archers.

"So superb as the harassed mum in Outnumbered, Claire Skinner brings to the uptight Jenny a fresh heap of suppressed emotion, but she resembles a clothes-catalogue idea of 'country'. Sion Daniel Young (Ryan), Ukweli Roach (Pete) and Ophelia Lovibond (Lou) complete the quartet. Laudably diligent they are, too, but it's slight, mildly soporific stuff."

Tim Bano, The Stage

★★

"This is only the third play at the Bridge Theatre... and it seems they're still working out what the space can do, what works and what doesn't. Barney Norris' latest play doesn't."

"The line between style and staleness is slim. When does a writer's style just become repetition, falling back on familiar themes and rhythms over and over again? Nightfall picks up on so many elements of Norris' previous work – grief, overlooked rural communities and family ties – without ever pushing the style forward. It's a very safe play."

"Rae Smith's backdrop is a work of art."

"Norris builds mystery and subtext, then doesn't sustain them. Everything is explained away with blunt, slightly trite lines. While the drama picks up in the second act and the exchanges are meatier, by then it's too late."

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