Barney Norris has thus far enjoyed a meteoric rise. He won the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Most Promising Playwright in 2014 for VisitorsThe Times wrote Remember the name Barney Norris. He’s a new writer in his twenties, but already outstanding.’ We certainly did remember, as two critically-acclaimed novels were published in 2016 and early 2018. Now 31, his latest opus, Nightfall, recently premiered at the Bridge Theatre during this, its opening season.

Sadly, it didn’t realise all this potential.

Nightfall has a sprawling structure of four scenes, all set in the garden of the family farmhouse amongst picnic furniture, a rusting tractor, and an oil pipeline which runs through the middle of Rae Smith’s set. The backdrop is sublime: a recreation of the Wiltshire skyline in shimmering metal sheets that transition flawlessly from dusk to dawn thanks to ingenious lighting by Chris Davey. However beautiful the set, the spacious Bridge Theatre didn’t provide the intimacy necessary for a play that is essentially a series of conversations. The airy acoustic meant that occasionally some of the diction was lost into the night sky, and the need to fill the stage meant confidential confessions and personal declarations were made over tens of metres.

With all this space, that is, ironically, exactly what was lacking in terms of pacing and finesse from the cast of four. There was always a rush to move on to the next interaction, and not adequate time given to probing relationships or letting arguments settle. Lingering summer days in Wiltshire were crammed into a quick jaunt to the theatre on a Wednesday evening.

Claire Skinner, who plays grieving mother Jenny, moved between maternal protection and vindictive pettiness a little heavy-handedly, and came across more schizophrenic than scheming. Similarly, the transitions by Lou (played by Ophelia Lovibond) between the mundanity of rural life and profound observations were a little sticky, her provoking monologues seemingly plonked into the script. Lovibond’s skilful timing and use of body language was occasionally let down by rushing her words, which became lost in the billowy acoustic.

Sion Daniel Young was stirring as lost son Ryan, expressing his grief, guilt, and the burden of responsibility through childhood nostalgia. He links up well with Ukweli Roach playing Pete, capturing a jaded friendship that seems to have run its course, and skirting round issues with blokeish banter.

Norris builds us up emotionally, but then doesn’t have the patience to persevere and find real answers, instead curtailing moments of real pathos with glib interjections and easy laughs. There was a glimpse of more determination to achieve this at the very end, as Jenny cries out to the deaf ears of her late husband, ‘You’re not listening to me!’ It was the most affecting moment by far.

There was of course pressure for Nicholas Hytner and the Bridge Theatre to display it’s versatility and champion new writers in its opening season, but this felt like a mismatch.  There is much in this play—and undoubtedly in Norris in the years to come—but hopefully when it is revived, it will be in a smaller space, or even in a real garden.

Nightfall runs until the 26th May at the Bridge Theatre