Allegory seems to be all the rage at the moment and rooting around issues of tradition, identity and above all an attachment to the past, Nightfall is steeped in the churned-up, acrimonious soil of post-referendum life.
Representing a certain kind of British identity, manipulative matriarch Jenny (Claire Skinner), seeks to preserve the legacy of failing family farm, following the death of her husband. With her traditional designs on the farm unable to match the fiscal reality, young son Ryan (Sion Daniel Young), who has inherited the land, is both proud and trapped; desperate to preserve the thing that has been passed down to him, yet aware that the only way to save it is to radically reform it. Daughter Lou (Ophelia Lovibond) feels suffocated following the arrival of ex-boyfriend Pete (Ukweli Roach) and as the countryside begins to decay, so too do the familial bonds holding the characters together.
In contrast to the conventionally beautiful landscapes often associated with rural life, set designer Rae Smith ops for a more realistic and atmospheric approach. A massive corporate oil pipe cuts the land in two, symbolic of a family split down the middle. Sodden fields answer leaden sky, a discarded storage tank and compost heap encapsulating the exhausting, sinking, muddy struggle that characterises farming family life from dawn till dusk. Chris Davey’s smooth colour fades of creeping dawn and Christopher Shutt’s muted sound design of various fowl, bring further life to the pastoral scene and the original stringed score from Gareth Williams evokes a sense of melancholy for a fading way of life.
As steady as nightfall itself, the play is a slow burner. The cast do a great job in delivering lines which sometimes seem trite, and Lovibond in particular gives a stand out performance. Director, Laurie Sansom successfully builds on Norris’ tension with the careful positioning of characters and props, e.g. a loaded shotgun close to a desperate mother and an axe constantly located in clear view. Disappointingly though, this prolonged tension never leads anywhere and ultimately Nightfall seems more interested in its symbolism and Brexit metaphors than its central family narrative.