Friday 4 May 2018

Theatre Review: The Fall

"Do you really think it's that bad, being that old?" is two things: a line in The Fall, the latest production by the National Youth Theatre, and also a question that in the mouths of the brilliant young people who populate this production something I felt as a personal insult as I sat in the theatre, trying to forget how tired I was and that somehow there is still one more workday this week and generally low level questioning my life choices.

I digress.

The Fall, written by James Fritz, was commissioned by the NYT a couple of years ago. It tells the story of one woman at three stages of her life and in three different interactions with older people, the last, inevitably, being when she herself is the older person. All of these interactions end with the older people dead by, in some way, her (lack of) efforts. A cheery piece. 

Flippancy aside, The Fall is a really interesting piece of work. There's a black humour to it that I found really compelling and, as so often, some well judged levity goes a long way to heighten the drama and darker moments too. The drama is strong, tackling issues of loneliness, the housing crisis (again) and most obviously the relationship between young and old in a society where the perception, fairly or otherwise, is that the old have everything and the young nothing. Big topics, and no easy answers offered, but all really well explored. The structure is intelligent too, telling the story in three separate chunks played by different casts. Each chunk is a self contained narrative in and of itself, and the connection between them is only loosely made. But it works as a whole as well as three separate pieces. Judged on writing alone, I think this is probably one of the better pieces of modern theatre I've seen in a while.

The production is equally, though not quite 100% consistently, strong. To explain the caveat briefly, I could happily have lived without the odd dancing that sits incongruously between each chunk of story - it added nothing except a veneer of pretentiousness which sits so oddly with the rest of this stripped back show. There's good stuff going on elsewhere though: in Matt Harrison's breakneck in a good way direction,  in Christopher Hone's extremely minimal but extremely effective design and especially in Christopher Nairne's gorgeously evocative lighting - some of the effects he generates are really quite incredible given the confines of the space.

As always though the joy of an NYT production is the NYT itself. And of all the NYT companies I've seen this is by some way the strongest. The whole cast (of ten) is great and there's the usual fistfuls of energy and general no-fucks-given-ness that I love NYT productions for. But there is also Serious Acting going on here, punctuation intentional. Niyi Akin and Jesse Bateson are positively dripping charisma as Boy and Girl, the first story's painfully naive characters. In story two, Troy Richards and Sophie Couch are even better as One and Two. Couch is probably the pick of the whole show for me, there's such subtlety and control in what is a really difficult part (no spoilers). In the final story I loved Josie Charles as A (the character names are less annoying in context), who gets the full range of emotions to play with and plays with them really well. Keep an eye on these kids, she said patronisingly. They are definitely going places. 

The Fall is by far the best thing I've yet seen the NYT do - a strong, complex play with a kick ass cast and a (largely) really effective production. Also a lovely venue in the Southwark Playhouse, which I'd not been to before but was really taken with (mostly because they let you take your drink in in an actual glass which is so exciting to me). Recommended, company, production and venue.

The Fall by the National Youth Theatre is at the Southwark Playhouse until 19th May.

My seat was B50, I attended press night and my ticket was kindly provided by the NYT. It would normally cost £20. Which is a bargain.

1 comment:

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