FringeReview UK 2018
The National Youth Theatre’s production of James Fritz’s 2016 The Fall is directed by Matt Harrison. Rebecca Hesketh-Smith’s choreography cheerfully explodes, quite literally with help from Jak Poore’s sound. Helena Bonner’s drab uniforms evoke the Donmar Shakespeare Clean Break series. Christopher Hone’s set is a simple grey—clad bed, ritually made and unmade in the second scene, emblematic and poignant. Christopher Nairne’s lighting has its moments in First and Third where voice-activation is meant to dim or brighten lights. Till May 19th.
The title sounds like one era’s pop group, and eras are at the heart of this play. The National Youth Theatre’s production of James Fritz’s 2016 The Fall directed by Matt Harrison might feature One Direction’s ‘Live While We’re Young’ but as that post-millennial generation age and the song gets repeated its shadow title suggests itself.
In his seventy-five-minute play the award-winning Fritz knows exactly how to insinuate this movement too, with a script of micro-beats denoting decades from second to second in the middle play where like Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, the shortest duration covers the longest span. Rightly, he places emphasis on the final piece, with its cast of six shedding themselves through an inexorable tread.
Rebecca Hesketh-Smith’s choreography cheerfully explodes, quite literally with help from Jak Poore’s sound. There’s a popper explosion of black strips as the ten-strong grey-clad ensemble spin onto the stage with an all-stomp routine, curtain-raiser to all three scenes. The first’s invigorating. After, it’s a mannerism that doesn’t quite survive its occasion. Helena Bonner’s drab uniforms evoke the Donmar Shakespeare Clean Break series. Again it’s most telling in the final scene, its cast backed shuddering to the future.
Christopher Hone’s set is a simple grey—clad bed, ritually made and unmade in the second scene, emblematic and poignant. Christopher Nairne’s lighting has its moments in the first and third where voice-activation is meant to dim or brighten lights.
The whole play opens and closes with running the school 1500, something which by the end takes on real poignancy. In First Niyi Akin and Jesse Bateson as Boy and Girl sassily negotiate sex around the bed of Mr Butler’s whom Girl’s caring for. The man’s bed glowers: they fuss around it. They’ve got nowhere else. ‘stop thinking about your grandparents doing every dirty thing we’ve ever done… and quite a lot we haven’t done…. Their wrinkly skin rubbing up against…’ this inevitably returns to haunt at least one of the protagonists.
Mr Butler’s away they think, and the fizzing comedy of sex comes with Girl’s ‘I’m not having sex with you in a McDonalds… Again.’ Ultimately they discover Mr Butler in a blanket and their comparative positions reverse. Would he want to be revived, should they call? It’s a brisk piece setting up resonances.
In Second Troy Richards’ One persuades Sophie Couch’s Two to a child and in a blink they’re middle-aged caring for One’s mother. Dilemmas of care, of giving up a job and all their savings vanishing to just One’s mother’s flat leave them in a dilemma increasingly visited upon many children. It’s the ritual switchbacks and elliptical speed that renders this the most formally exciting of the three. All through it One and Two make and unmake the bed, with one of the ensemble bring new bedclothes underpinning the dragging-down life of people through their prime years to around forty-eight. We’re now about thirty years on from First.
It’s Third, another thirty years perhaps in a dystopian world persuading people to sign for ’compensation’ to their families that’s at once the warmest and most chilling drama here. On that decision revolves the paradoxes that grip and twist the vulnerable out of their choices.
As a study in loss of agency, of even sexual choice that might promote affirmative behaviour, it’s compelling and rather too convincing. The quartet are left alone save for voice-activating some remote called Petra which caries out mundane tasks unfit for nurses, whose interventions are dubious.
Josie Charles’ A might be the girl of the first scene, trying to recall how it felt to win the 1500, and her arrival troubles the air. Charles throughout is expressive and undergoes the longest development of anyone with the possible exception of Couch’s Two. They’re both exemplary. A soon forms a relationship with Madeline Charlemagne’s socially indeed sexually confident B when A’s bed breaks down.
Jamie Foulkes C is a model of pain endured and too apologetic for his own life. Jamie Ankrah’s disturbed D feels tricked by the system and by his slipping mind, with sudden screams of ‘JOOO’ rending the air. Tensions arise when D sees the intimacy of A and B mutely defying a system he’s convinced his relatives will release him from. Rescue does seemingly come for one of these characters, but it provokes a dilemma. Ankrah’s powerfully physical providing residual, ruined menace. Liaison’s Lucy Havard full of steely smiles and Joshua Williams’ quiet Nurse at the end complete a dystopian futurity the more compelling for its unforced genteel reasonableness. At the end we’re back to memories of running, with a difference.
It’s a play which for theme, formal handling and ingenuity would be highly recommendable alone. Coupled with the excitement of ten young actors getting the measure of this and themselves provides a thrilling reach into tomorrow, including the tomorrows we hope never come.