Tuesday 30 September 2014

Next Fall - Review

Southwark Playhouse, London


Written by Geoffrey Nauffts
Directed by Luke Sheppard

Mitchell Mullen and Nancy Crane

Set in Manhattan, Next Fall is a carefully written exposition of faith, sexuality and denial, played out across the cultural chasm of the Mason-Dixon Line that even today, still fractures the United States.

Martin Delaney is Luke, a gay Southerner, committed to his Christian faith and who has been unable to come out to his long-divorced parents.  The play opens with his having sustained life-threatening injuries in a car crash, and as he lies offstage on a ventilator the drama plays out through flashbacks and real-time, as the jigsaw pieces of his life slowly fall into place.

Luke's lover Adam is an atheist New Yorker, stymied by Luke's shielding of his sexuality from his parents and desperate to be able to express his love for Luke as the younger man’s life hangs by a thread. Charlie Condou plays Adam, on stage for almost the entire play and injecting a passion into his performance that never once slips from excruciating credibility.

All the performances in this meticulously researched piece are top notch, with Mitchell Mullen's Butch, Luke's redneck father, a brilliantly crafted study of a man who has lived his life believing that gays and blacks should be lynched, now having to cope with the consequences of having denied to himself his son's sexuality. In a performance that ranges from rage to heartbreak, Mullen is masterful.

The Judaeo-Christian fusion of the North Eastern metropolis is in stark contrast to the bible-bashing prejudice of the South and Naufft's carefully constructs his drama around the painful paradoxes of faith. There are moments in the second half when the characters' back stories tend to drag, yet the drama is never more intense than when Adam grapples with wanting to tell Butch all, whilst at the same time the old man is having to contemplate the agony of agreeing to organ donation, should Luke succumb to.his devastating injuries It makes for brilliant theatre.

There is good work all round, Sirine Saba's Jewish Holly proving to be the glue struggling to sustain the damaged people around her and who all love Luke for different reasons. Nancy Crane is Luke's manic yet fragile mother Arlene, in a performance that perceptively combines a mother's agony for her wounded child, with a desperate lurch into the welcoming arms of anti-depressants.

David Woodhead's design with Howard Hudson's lighting makes clever work of The Little's compact space, efficiently suggesting changes in both time and location, and Luke Sheppard has done well on capturing the nuances from his talented troupe.

Next Fall is one of the more impressive productions of gay theatre in recent years. The performances are perfect and the play makes for a troubling and thought provoking night.

Runs until 25th October 2014

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