Pros: A well layered plot, strong characters and a tight temporal bounce kept me interested. The contrast of humour and sadness is cleverly written.
Cons: The play tackles the conflict between homosexuality and devout Christianity without any real oomph. Several of the cast do not manage to master the American accents, diminishing their credibility.
This is the story of Luke, a devout bible-belt Christian and his gay partner, Adam, a staunch atheist. It centres around an event; an accident which renders Luke in a coma and suffering from a severe brain injury. Adam finds himself in the company of Luke’s parents and close friends and is confronted by the lack of recognition he has as Luke’s lover, as Luke’s beliefs have prevented him from coming out to his own parents. The plot bounces back and forth in time to eventually reveal the relationships and beliefs of all the characters.
It is cleverly written as the characters not only represent differing views on religion and sexuality, they also divulge the impact that their practicing beliefs (or not) has on their outlook on life and death. It is simply yet intimately disclosed and each character’s personality is distinct and well-defined. Luke’s unfaltering faith supports his positive, happy go lucky demeanor, whilst Adam’s dissatisfaction with his life seems to ring out in disbelieving contrast. We see Luke’s mother, Arlene, denoting the compromise between excesses and faith whereas Luke’s father, Butch, represents the staunch, hard-line face of Christianity. The friends also add colour to the picture; Holly the wavering questioner and Brandon, a gay man denying his sexuality to live up to his religious dogma. It is a well crafted story and incredibly human in its approach.
There are some notable performances too. Martin Delaney as Luke was particularly spot on; comfortable and easy in the part. I genuinely warmed to Luke and felt Delaney truly nailed the character without the overstatement that extreme views can often induce. Nancy Crane sparkled as Arlene, delivering both humour and sadness with finesse. I was able to feel a real empathy for Mitchell Mullen as the hard-hitting Butch,despite his politically incorrect stance. The stage direction is excellent and the movements in time and place are clearly defined with small but important changes.
So why only three stars? Aside from some shocking American accents and a touch of underacting (and overacting) from some of the cast, whilst the story deals with life-defining conflicts at such an intimate level, I feel it really holds back on confrontation. It is rather gently approached, which gives balance to all the personalities and their views, but in doing so lacks the real punch that each of the characters will have felt in their stomachs at that moment in time. The play’s events bring forth hugely personal insults and issues, which ultimately end up feel watered down. There is so much that isn’t broached, perhaps due to the circumstances, yet I feel the piece could have achieved a greater impact had it hit these issues somewhat more head-on.
Nevertheless, Next Fall is certainly worth seeing . It is an interesting exploration of personal beliefs and mortality that go beyond the obvious gay theme. Does belief in the afterlife make you happier in this one?
Author: Geoffrey Nauffts
Director: Luke Sheppard
Booking until: 25 October 2014
Box office: 020 7407 0234
Booking link: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-little/next-fall/