Nightfall is an insightful nosedive into the dangers of Incel ideology and how online radicalisation increasingly leads to violence against women. In the White Bear Theatre, a huge door stands slanted on a diagonal, poised in a geometric UV maze. It’s a snapshot of British adolescence, slightly coming-of-age drama and slightly thriller.
Our protagonists burst out onstage – two sixteen-year-old outsiders in mismatched school uniforms. Manny (played by Max Cadman) is a bag of hormones with a sweet tooth for far-right philosophy and Sophia (played by Julia Pilkington) is a wreckless alt-chick who fawns over middle-aged men on the tube. They’re rough around the edges which makes them far more naturalistically appealing, yet I’d love to see their aesthetics pushed further.
The awkwardness of teenage romance is handled through plentiful boner jokes and text message conversations, all scored with a fluid soundscape. I get butterflies watching these two youngsters snogging on a football field. Some of the jokes fall flat and there are some genuinely uncomfortable moments. For example, I’d rather not have to watch a sixteen-year-old character standing topless onstage. Helena Snider’s potential with this text, however, is boundless and I can only imagine how it will progress with further development.
The stamina required in this performance is a testament to the actors’ abilities, let alone the emotional turmoil they must exhibit. Pilkington has tears streaming down her face at multiple points of the show. There are sections called “going bezerk” where our actors scream and thrash about with teenage angst. In the small space some of the blocking becomes a little stagnant; however, the onslaught of rich text pushes the narrative forward.
Snider’s craftsmanship highlights the depth of issues which lead to sexual violence without unnecessary triggers. It is clean and thorough in its social commentary without using assault as a throwaway theatrical device. In fact, the intimacy is directed smoothly with bursts of exuberant chemistry between performers. Sophia doesn’t exist to serve Manny’s arc. As the play unfolds we experience the dangers of beginning to sympathise with radicalised thinking. Manny isn’t an antihero or a bad guy turned good; he’s a radicalised loose-cannon not worth saving. The writing is a demonstration of how political onstage narratives can be constructed without becoming a lecture.
Nightfall is a ferociously relevant burst of energy into the sea of pandemic theatre. In the wake of the Sarah Everard case, this sort of commentary on the social underbelly where misogyny festers is necessary. I look forward to seeing what Trightrope produce next.
‘Nightfall’ is playing at the White Bear Theatre until 11 July 2021. For more information and tickets, see White Bear Theatre online.