“I want you to love me more than you love Him”.
What happens when religion gets in the way of love? That’s the key question in Next Fall, a play in which homosexuality is normalised and religion is the mark of the outsider. When atheist Adam (Charlie Condou) discovers his boyfriend Luke (Martin Delaney) is a Christian, it forces him to question his own beliefs. Is his lack of faith holding him back from true love? And with Luke on his deathbed in hospital, what will become of their relationship in the afterlife? Their relationship is told through flashback as we witness the couple overcoming their religious differences to make their relationship work.
Next Fall is directed by Luke Sheppard, following his exciting production of In The Heights earlier this year. Yet again he is bringing a Broadway hit to the UK for its premiere and here he directs with clarity and a sympathetic touch to portraying life in modern New York. He is undoubtedly a director to keep an eye on.
On the surface, the play is a typical hospital drama. It all begins with an almighty crash and, with Luke in a coma, his nearest and dearest are forced together to confront their differences. So far, so typical. Yet beneath the gentle sit-com rhythm of this modern-day play, it simmers with tension and thematic depth. Writer Geoffrey Nauffts has delivered an emotional wolf in sheep’s clothing: nuanced, easy to watch, but offering an honest and thought-provoking exploration of relationships.
This is clearly a man’s world, however, the female characters used for little more than comic relief. Where the core narrative revolves around the central couple and Luke’s unaccepting and religious father Butch (a menacingly macho Mitchell Mullen), his mother Arlene (Nancy Crane) and Adam’s friend Holly (Sirine Saba) are pushed to the sidelines. That said, Crane has both impeccable comic-timing and a subtle touch, whilst Saba is loveable as the hippyish, yoga-devoted, fag hag friend. Ben Cura is also a joy to watch as Luke’s friend Brandon.
The real heart of the production, however, comes from the believable and genuine portrayal of Adam and Luke from Condou and Delaney, who perform with truth and conviction. Condou is cynical and sassy as Adam; Delaney’s Luke is a well-rounded character struggling with both his acting career and his sexuality. Their relationship shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. Stunning naturalistic performances alongside some touching incidental music from Pippa Cleary elevate the piece to something beautiful.
Watch: Next Fall runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 25th October.
Photos: Robert Workman