Director: Charlotte Peters
Writer: Drew Hewitt
Filmed as part of the Original Theatre series, The Fall starts, unexpectedly, in the middle of a scene. Vicki, a middle-aged woman, is sat at home with wine glass in hand, already drunk and contemplating getting more so. Her young, American lodger Tom walks in.
It feels like we have taken a wrong turn somewhere: this is a chaotic script, with broad swathes of character: Vicki complains about her marriage to husband Bill, and the sniping intensifies as Bill appears. He refuses to be goaded by Vicki’s boast that she and Tom have slept together, announcing that he, too, has slept with the American. Something goes wrong. Vicki freezes in her seat and falls silent. She begins to tremble. Bill turns to the camera, asking them to stop filming.
What we have seen is part of a play called Victoria Falls? In this scene, The Fall begins and we are sitting with ‘Vicki’ and ‘Bill’ in a therapist’s office. Offstage, they are called Janet and Liam. Janet / Vicki has been silent since that performance. The tests haven’t found any physical reason to explain the silence. Hers is an elective mutism.
Janet and Liam, played by Sara Stewart and Adrian Lukis, struggle to pinpoint the problem. Their lives are in good shape. Their play continues to do good box office; their only son, Tim (Tyger Drew-Honey), is about to give them their first grandchild. Liam tells Janet’s therapist (Alex Kingston) that they recently attended a friend’s funeral. Janet has been experiencing panic attacks ever since. In session, Janet eventually finds her voice.
The Fall takes its time in setting out its premise – we are never quite sure what we are looking at: an unspecified psychological trauma? Existential crisis? We are digging around for clues just as much as Kingston’s therapist, and it isn’t until the last ten minutes that the pieces begin to fall into place. As a result, the play feels top-heavy.
But there is plenty in The Fall to admire. The performances – as you might expect from a cast with this much experience in theatre, film and television – mesh together beautifully. Kingston and Stewart’s lines bounce off each other; cut through each other’s unfinished thoughts and this verbal tussling feels effortless for both actors.
Hewitt’s meta construction – quite literally putting a play within a play – is clever without being intrusive. Hewitt slips in a running commentary: Liam mentions how the understudy grows in confidence, fully inhabiting her role. The transition is complete. The parallel realities (this play being performed, the other play being performed on another stage, therapy as a kind of performative act) collide and merge.
While structurally uneven, The Fall isn’t short of ideas and covers a lot of ground. We move from questions of pre-determinism to whether free will is nothing more than a myth. Grimly, Kingston and Stewart muse on whether we are just “biochemical puppets”. This nihilistic thread is tugged at by Hewitt, who offers little in the way of consolation or clarity. It may not bring comfort, especially in the final scenes, but it certainly makes for a better play.