Anne Cox delivers her verdict on compelling drama Next Fall, on at Southwark Playhouse until October 25.
Charlie Condou swept out of Coronation Street as sexually confused nurse Marcus for a new start in London (where the nation’s favourite soap thinks the streets are paved with gold). It’s a brave step for a jobbing actor to give up a major role in a long-running soap for the uncertainty of the big bad world of theatre and TV.
But Condou appears to have fallen on his feet with American import Next Fall, written by Geoffrey Nauffts, which has just opened at the Southwark Playhouse.
It’s a play that throws up lots of issues, handled deftly, about sex, religion, families, relationships and faith.
The recent revival of My Night With Reg at the Donmar was a huge success thanks to its tremendously witty dialogue that offered a night of laughter despite a story dealing with the terrible effects of AIDs. Next Fall, another gay play, is far more serious in its content, and could do with having more lightness among the gloom.
Relationships don’t come more tangled than Adam and Luke’s often uneasy affair. The handsome Adam (Martin Delaney), an aspiring actor, meets the older Luke (Condou), a 40-year-old candle salesman frustrated with his lot, at a party.
Thus strikes up a four-year partnership that frequently hits troubled water.
Luke is a non-believer while Adam is overtly religious, praying before meals and begging spiritual forgiveness straight after sex.
When you meet his father, Butch, it’s clear where the fervour comes from. Butch is a right wing Bible Belt religious fundamentalist and bigot who would be appalled to discover his son is gay.
Luke struggles to make sense of his partner’s beliefs. Meanwhile Adam’s pious friend, Brandon, metaphorically flagellates by denying himself the company of black men (his choice of partner), because of his convictions.
Everyone’s world is thrown into chaos when Adam is the victim of a road accident and lies at death’s door. Suddenly life becomes even harder as their stories are told in flashback.
Adam’s divorced parents, Butch and Arlene, are brought together by the tragedy, meeting their son’s friends, Brandon and Holly, at the hospital.
Shockingly Adam never had the courage to out himself (to Luke’s disgust) and Luke is treated indifferently, particularly by Butch.
The performances by the cast of six are generally fine (although Mitchell Mullen, as Butch, had a nightmare entrance on Tuesday night, saved by the splendid Nancy Crane as his wife).
Condou’s American accent is seriously suspect but is forgiven by an engaging turn as Adam, a man at sea with both his faith and his life. Ben Cura’s Brandon was an exercise in subtlety, a character who seemed superfluous until a key scene late in the play.
I enjoyed Mullen’s fiery Butch, who shocked the audience when mentioning the n-word along with the gay f-word in the same damning sentence to describe a black actor.
The incense-burning, spiritual chanting, shop-owner Holly was a splendidly observed character by Sirine Saba.
Director Luke Sheppard has come up with a thought-provoking and engrossing drama that shows that there can be life after the soaps.