Review: Next Fall, Southwark Playhouse

“I want you to love me more than you love Him”

Like the warmth of a hug you didn’t know you needed, the tender beauty of Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall creeps up on you gradually as an initially comic tone melts into something infinitely more moving. Though the play hooks on a dramatically convenient device to bring together a group of people, the way that it explores the various intersecting relationships between them all is a masterpiece of quietly compelling emotion and perfectly honed construction – one can well see why it was a much-nominated success during its 2010 Broadway run.

Adam and Luke have been together for several years now, navigating the twists and turns of their relationship like old pros, like Adam’s insecurities as he’s just that little bit older than Luke and Luke’s refusal to come out to his family back in Florida even though he’s out and proud in their pokey New York apartment. At the heart of that decision though is something more fundamentally serious – Luke’s devoutly Christian beliefs which fly right in the face of Adam’s atheism, an issue which is interrogated sensitively but deeply as Nauffts asks us what it really means to have faith as we flashback to key points in their time together.

Charlie Condou’s Adam and Martin Delaney’s Luke make for a great couple, their differences complementary and their chemistry utterly believable – director Luke Sheppard ensures there’s an ease to their physical intimacy that means we never doubt in their relationship and manages to eschew the predilection of so many a gay play of having its characters wander around shirtless all the time (one scene in their boxers notwithstanding ;-)) And there’s something pleasingly complex about the tangle they find themselves in whenever they talk about religion.

Though the British inclination might be to side with Adam in mocking anyone who believes the Rapture is coming, his unquestioning dismissal of Christianity is far from automatically sympathetic. And Luke’s rationalising of his beliefs in the modern world speak of an untested naïveté, especially when talking about forgiveness for Matthew Shepard’s killers. On top of all of this, Nauffts throws in a tragic accident which brings in other people from their lives and further tests Adam’s resolve as he’s forced onto the sidelines.

The pill-popping but well-intentioned largesse of Nancy Crane’s Arlene and the overcompensating butchness of Mitchell Mullen’s Butch go some way to explaining Luke’s reticence in coming out to his divorced parents but staring into the abyss and with Adam refusing to back away, they find out the hard way that acceptance and change is the only way forward. So too with Sirine Saba’s beautifully warm fag hag and Ben Cura’s black-man-loving closet case, the understated emotional impact of their friend’s accident serving as a much-needed tipping point for the stasis in their lives.

The focus though remains on Adam and Luke, heartbreakingly so in the final moments, as the penny finally drops, “all the doubt, everything I’ve been questioning for the past five years, none of it meant anything…”. It may come late but we see that there’s hope for us all, not least in the fact that Nauffts based the story on his own relationship which is now at 11 years and counting. Next Fall is a gorgeous piece of theatre – hugely emotional yet never melodramatic, optimistic even in the face of hardship, you’ll want someone to hug by the end mark my words.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 1st November

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