Writer: Daniel Jamieson
Composer and Musical Director: Thomas Johnson
Director: Nikki Sved
Reviewer: Lucy Corley
Daniel Jamieson’s new play Falling is a response to the sinkholes that became prevalent in Britain after 2014’s storms and Theatre Alibi explores the depths of human minds and hearts in this intense production.
Art teacher Claire lives in Cornwall with her daughter Alice, who at 17 is looking forward to taking her A-levels and going on to study architecture. But their optimistic existence is thrown off course when Alice falls into a sinkhole that opens, out of nowhere, in their back garden. In Falling, we witness the aftermath of this accidentand its effect on mother and daughter.
Alice (Amy Blair) feels fine at first, and when she starts to have nightmares she keeps them concealed from her mother. As time goes by, these dreams blur increasingly into Alice’s reality. Blair gives a nuanced, sensitive performance of a life blown off course that will resonate strongly with anyone who has experienced mental illness, first-hand or otherwise. Despite retreating into herself, Alice remains readable to the audience, and it is absolutely clear from the hurt in her dark eyes that in her mind, she has never stopped falling.
The production maintains Exeter-based Theatre Alibi’s usual narrative style, with mother and daughter telling their story directly to the audience. Original music by Thomas Johnson is performed by Thomas Fripp on electric guitar and reverb pedal, accompanied by vocals from the two actors. Having the music performed by the cast adds an extra facet to the connection between them, in a style reminiscent of the West End’s War Horse.
A huge, freestanding metal circle is at the centre of Trina Bramman’s set and is mirrored by another circle drawn on the floor. Combined with a projector screen, these ‘holes’ work brilliantly as sinkhole, artist’s studio, bedroom and a park bench, heightening the sense that nowhere is free from the potential for falling.
Director Nikki Sved presents the cast of two to maximum advantage: it is clear they have worked intensively together and thought through every detail, as no lines are delivered without absolute intention, and there is nothing superfluous.
Jordan Whyte is excellently cast as Claire – described affectionately by her daughter as a “weird hippy” – giving her a creative passion for life coupled with a slight scattiness that suggests she’s never really grown up. Later, the haunting anguish in her portrayal of a mother who fears her child is dead brought this reviewer to tears, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.
Probably in an effort to amplify the contrast with the later scenes, the opening mother-daughter relationship is slightly overplayed, rendering it a little sickly sweet as they tease and pull faces at each other. Likewise, Alice initially appears somewhat immature for a 17-year-old. That said, the teenage girl’s perspective of her mother as half a best friend, half the most annoying person in the world, does come across.
Much more effective is the way the bond between them changes as the trauma of the accident affects both in very different ways. The more Alice becomes numb and withdrawn, the more Claire’s energy borders on hyperactivity, and many families will identify with the painful distance that opens up between them.
Falling deals fearlessly with the darkness of real people’s lives and is unafraid to push its audience towards the boundaries of its comfort zone, which makes its impact extend beyond the hour and a half in the theatre. As the show ends on a message of hope, there is a palpable sense of respect in the audience’s applause, for a company Exeter is lucky to call its own.
Runs until 24 February 2016then touring | Image: Contributed
Further information: Theatre Alibi/Falling