Writer: James Fritz
Director: Matt Harrison
Reviewer: Fergus Morgan
The average age of Britain is increasing. There are more pensioners in the UK today than there have ever been. One in three children born in 2016 will live to 100. Any way you slice it, Britain is growing old. And this can only cause problems.
In his new play,The Fall, James Fritz tackles Britain’s ageing population with the same clinical precision he crafted in Four Minutes Twelve Seconds and Ross &Rachel. It has a wider scope than his previous plays, tracking the life of a millennial from hormone-addled adolescence to institutionalised old age, but it has the same gut-twisting intensity, the same sweltering sense of horror.
And Matt Harrison’s slick, richly symbolic production for the National Youth Theatre captures Fritz’s tone well. The youthful cast imbues his snappy, rhythmic dialogue with a compelling muscularity, coupling this with a physical exuberance that, in the play’s superb final act, creates a bewitching juxtaposition between the age of the performers and the age of the characters they play. It is intelligent, absorbing stuff.
In the first act – the most naturalistic of the three – Oliver Clayton and LaTanya Peterkin are a young, vivacious couple sneaking into an old man’s home to hook up, only to discover him critically ill in bed. In the second, James Morley and Katya Morrison are – possibly – the same couple, forced into dire financial straits by the ailing health of an ageing parent. And in the staggering third, Hannah Farnhill is an elderly widow in an Orwellian care-home, antagonised and enchanted by her fellow residents but nudged constantly towards assisted suicide by a cold, impersonal nurse.
What Fritz neatly delineates is the subtle ease with which individuals in desperate situations can commit appalling acts in the name of kindness. With mounting dismay, he deftly uncovers the link between individual acts of compassion and widespread societal brutality. Years apart though they may be, a young girl’s appreciation of an old man’s death-wish and a society’s heartless disposal of the aged for the sake of the young are two stops on the same tube line.
There are a number of memorable performances, but none more so than Farnhill’s as the incarcerated widow. Understated and modest, she is able to suggest volumes with the slightest shift in tone, to evoke decades of hardship in the briefest hesitation. Ben Butler also impresses as a waspish fellow resident, as does Matilda Doran-Cobham as Farnhill’s straight-talking, geriatric love interest. Chris Hone’s stark set – a floating steel bedframe and a few metal chairs – and Seth Rook Williams’ stylish lighting complement Harrison’s stripped back, abstract direction well.
The National Youth Theatre turns sixty this year, and The Fall is one of three new plays marking the occasion at the mercurial Finborough Theatre. It indisputably confirms Fritz – himself an NYT alumnus – as a major new voice in British drama and this classy first production is a confident assertion of NYT’s value to our national culture.
Runs until 13 August 2016| Image:Helen Maybanks