Cold comfort down on the farm
Nightfall The Bridge Theatre, London Until May 26, 2hrs 20mins
It’s always a relief to see a new play set outside the M25. Barney Norris’s latest finds us beside a farmhouse near Winchester. There’s a septic tank, a deceased tractor, an even deader crow and an oil pipe running across the property. The subject here is the shifting family equilibrium following a farmer’s death. (By the sound of him, a psycho farmer who once shot a labrador for trespassing on his grass.) The son, Ryan, is keeping things going – just. His mate Pete has come out of prison and they’re siphoning oil from the pipe for ready cash. Ryan’s kid sister, Lou, has returned to be with their grieving mum, Jenny, who listens to Fleetwood Mac and drinks. Played by Claire Skinner, Jenny loves the homestead and the way of life it represents. But to her feckless son (Sion Daniel Young), farming is just ‘pour-
ing chemicals over wheat’. The air is thick with uncertainty, anger and the mother’s resentment of Pete (Ukweli Roach), who threatens to steal her daughter away. Performed in all-purpose rural accents, Laurie Sansom’s production is much enlivened by rising star Ophelia Lovibond as Lou, whose heart is vividly torn. With swelling music and a set with a moody, spangled sky, the play is packed with sharp, buried emotions that crop up like flint in the Hampshire chalk. It’s impressive writing. But for my money, Norris too readily conforms to the playwriting rule that farming life must be served with a trailerload of pessimism.
Ophelia Lovibond, Sion Daniel Young and Ukweli Roach. Right: Claire Skinner and Young. Far right: Lovibond and Roach