Wednesday, 17 November 1999

Nightfall, Nov 17, 1999

by Joanna Murray-Smith by Playbox
at Beckett Theatre until December 11, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Repressed emotion, repressed memory, repressed sexuality – all that repression would drive one wild. In Jenny Kemp's evocative production of Joanna Murray-Smith's play, Nightfall, everything is latent. Everyone has trouble revealing emotion or even speaking. It is maddeningly difficult for them to describe the world as it is.

A middle-class, middle-aged couple (Margaret Cameron, Ian Scott) pace like caged animals awaiting nightfall and the imminent arrival of their daughter, Cora. She disappeared, for no apparent reason, seven years earlier at the age of sixteen. While they wait, they make up stories just as Cora did when she was a beautiful gifted child.

Instead, a stranger arrives; (Victoria Longley) Cora's friend, mentor, counsellor. She interrogates, harasses and confuses them. Until they admit their past faults, Cora will not come. The temptation to confess in order to see their darling daughter is almost irresistible. But, is there really a sin to confess?

The truth is never clear. Half the audience may leave with a completely different truth at the end of the play. The text is clever and often poetic. All three characters resist exposure to the point where they cannot complete sentences, words, even syllables. It is enough to make one scream in frustration. Why won't they just finish a sentence and be done with it?

This dialogue device is employed to heighten the chaos and the intensity in the situation, the shattered relationships and the resistance to the truth. Occasional glib or self-conscious lines are intrusive but Jenny Kemp has stylised the piece, creating an otherworldly atmosphere.

Kemp's production is simple and confined within Dale Ferguson's eerie design within which the bodies and language are made purposely uncomfortable. Lighting (Rachel Burke) and music (Elizabeth Drake) are subtle and atmospheric.

Cameron is compelling as the fraught Emily. Painful shadows and subtle, potent emotions flicker across the tragic mask of her face. She captures the shimmering desolation of a wife emotionally abandoned in marriage.

As Edward, Scott is the dogged, superior but evidently loving patriarch. He portrays with great sensitivity, the journey from dignity to a mere shell. The couple choose to call their marriage "love", rather than what it is: "the companionship of despair".

Longley's is a strong presence as the pushy, intrusive and annoying Kate. Her style is more naturalistic which jars a little but may represent the outside world that intrudes on their tiny life.

by Kate Herbert

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