The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings


SEARCH CurtainUp



Etcetera and
Short Term Listings



LA/San Diego






Free Updates
Writing for CurtainUp NYC Weather
A CurtainUp Review

Night Must Fall

By Elyse Sommer

Matthew Broderick as  the  baby-faced psychopath
Matthew Broderick as the baby-faced psychopath
What a difference a play makes. The all gray-black-white sets, props and costumes in All About Nightingales intensify the grim and claustrophobic prison atmosphere of Tennessee Williams' never produced 30s melodrama. In another melodrama of the same era, Night Must Fall by another playwright named Williams (Emlyn-- best known for The Corn Is Green) the set and costume designers have painted an English country house and its inhabitant in the same grisaille palette but in this case its more gimmicky than aptly atmospheric. The talented James Noone (sets) and Jess Goldstein (costumes) do actually manage to make the monochromatic color scheme look quite film noir handsome and modishly in keeping with this season's espousal of gray as the new black. But no amount of visual style can color this creaky old thriller vibrant or keep you at the edge of your seat. Its deepest mystery is why Emlyn Williams who was no Tennessee Williams has inspired a revival that wastes the talents of its cast and entails as much suspense as watching paint dry.

Director John Tillinger, who despite some wonderful credits is also guilty of the National Actors Theater revival of Three Men On a Horse, does his utmost to give us a few chills and thrills. The clap of thunder and lightning that gets things underway does jolt us out of our seats and the glimpse of a nude man outside the country house sitting room promises more titillation to come. Alas, the fact that the nude is a stand-in for Matthew Broderick sets the tone for the ersatz thrills of this play. The minute the storm ends and the curtain rises on the brightly lit parlor suspense takes a sharp turn towards the obvious. The novelty of seeing a play with a curtain descending between scenes is fun but soon proves insufficient to the underwhelming events every time the curtain rises. There are moments when you hope that maybe Mr. Tillinger is going to send up the genre and give us an Irma Vep -like spoof (link). Noo such luck! Night Must Fall insistently plods through the original scenario.

Matthew Broderick who plays the baby-faced psychopath Danny gives the adjective unconvincing new meaning. He seems to be acting right to his final almost ridiculous crackup. He oozes neither charm or evil as his movie counterpart Robert Montgomery did. This makes it almost impossible for the usually excellent J. Smith Cameron to give credibility to the antipathy-attraction her character (Olivia the niece of the tyrannical Mrs. Bramson) feels for Danny. As for the psychological dominatrix of this murder most foul revival, Judy Parfitt is excellent as the hypochondriac who falls prey to Danny's charm and murderous intent. However, it's not the Broadway debut one would wish for the memorable Mildred of that jewel of BBC serials, The Jewel In The Crown.

The rest of the supporting cast -- especially Patricia Kilgarriff as the uppity housekeeper and Michael Countryman as Hubert Laurie, Olivia's rejected suitor -- wrench the best performances possible from their roles.

A footnote about the filmed version of this play. The 1937 adaptation starring Robert Montgomery is a golden oldie classic of psychological suspense and still available in video stores. When director Karl Reisz and co-producer and star Albert Finney attempted a remake in 1964, the play's age and obviousness was too apparent to support a repeat of the first film's success. The National Actors Theater should have been guided by that remake's history.

Not About Nightingales
The Mystery of Irma Vep

By Emlyn Williams. Directed by John Tillinger
Starring Matthew Broderick and Judy Parfitt
With J. Smith-Cameron, Michael Countryman, Patricia Kilgarriff, Seana Kofoed, Peter McRobbie, Jennifer Wiltsie
Set design: James Noone
Costume design: Jess Goldstein
Lighting design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound design: Aural Fixation
Original Music: David Van Tieghem Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.
Previews 2/02/99-3/07/99; opened 3/08/99
Initial open run changed to limited run, ending 4/11/99
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 3/10 performance
Despite generally unfavorable reviews (the major exception being The New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley) the show is moving into the Helen Hayes theater for an open run just 2 days after the above closing date!
Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.

Tales From Shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

At This Theater Cover
At This Theater

Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive


©Copyright 2004, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from