FROM Julius Caesar to Nightfall. Within weeks, not the 400 odd years that span the writings of William Shakespeare and new kid on the block Barney Norris.
That is the recent offering from the Bridge Theatre, the wonderful new arts complex which sits in the shadow of London’s Tower Bridge and serves fine wine and meaty treats from St John. The magnificent, upmarket and trendy creation of Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr.
While Julius Caesar was brave and spectacular theatre, the same cannot be said of Nightfall, penned by the author of 2016 bestseller Five Rivers Met On a Wooded Plain.
The play, based around a farming family struggling to come to terms with the loss of their father and facing financial hardship, is almost swamped by the vastness of the Bridge. A Bridge Too Far. A Bridge Too Vast.
The set (designed by Rae Smith) is striking with the stage straddled by an oil pipeline that the family has allowed to cross their land to annoy their farming neighbours. The play starts with son Ryan (Sion Daniel Young) and his friend Pete (Ukweli Roach) illegally syphoning oil from the pipeline into a slurry tank for the benefit of the farm’s beleaguered finances. They are also not backward in coming forward when it comes to revealing their magnificent torsos. Peter’s muscles, Ryan’s slimness (thin as a farm rake).
Candidates for Not Quite The Full Monty. Enough exposure of body tone to get the pipeline’s oil close to boiling point.
The pair’s stealing is met with disquiet when Ryan’s mother Jenny (Claire Skinner) unexpectedly appears on the scene. Although slight and almost lost in the acres of greenery and farming equipment (including a tractor), Jenny is as hard as nails. She also has a liking for the odd Gin & Tonic or six.
Jenny is disapproving of Pete who has just come out of prison and was in a relationship with daughter Lou (Ophelia Lovibond). She is also contemptuous of star gazer Ryan and is happy to blackmail Lou when she indicates her desire to up sticks with Pete (love rekindled) and move overseas. Bubbling under the surface is the fact that the wrong person went to prison.
It is at times a little tedious – at two hours twenty minutes, far longer than the Sunday Omnibus edition of The Archers – although there are moments of magic. Jenny dancing to Fleetwood Mac. Jenny talking to her dead husband. There are also occasions, especially at the start, when it is difficult to hear what the characters are actually saying (maybe a good thing). Acoustic malfunction.
It is also somewhat weird that nothing of farming worth ever happens on this Hampshire farm – which probably explains why the family is in financial straits. Ryan bags the occasional crow on account they have been eating the ducklings. He also does a bit of home extension building but hard graft agricultural work is non-existent. The only sounds are birds, gun shots and Fleetwood Mac. At least in The Archers, Adam is often heard wrestling with a combine harvester while Jazzer’s only regular date is with his grunting pigs.
Skinner shines although not as brightly as she did in Florian Zeller’s The Father (2015) while Lovibond, Young and Roach all bring something to the Nightfall nightmare.
Maybe Nightfall, directed by Laurie Sansom, would work better in a more claustrophobic theatre. Maybe not. But it is a play that drifts without ever really taking off. A sideways step for the Bridge. Alan Bennett’s Allelujah. Bring it on.