The Fall returns to the off west end stage with a fresh cast – and fresh it is. A cool grey and blue palette greets me as I take my seat, with the tiered audience surrounding the stage. A double bed is centre stage prepared with grey sheets. The cold hues are cut with strobe and red glow as the young cast stride into the pit dressed in the same utilitarian grey as the set, but their clothes are the latest cuts, their shoes the latest brands giving them a ‘solid youth’ uniform. Hypnotic R & B plays as they dance staring at us in a Hakka-like manor, giving a youthful arrogance to the ensemble.
They finish with poses, bursting into cheers and ‘whoops’ and break from a group formation to the first Act, with a Boy (Niyi Akin) and a Girl (Jesse Bateson). They banter easily, batting back and forth playfully delivered dialogue. It’s clear from their interaction that they have enjoyed their rehearsal process, as they goad each other on. They take their cues for gear changes from one another, slipping into a serious resolve. Discussing the age of his grandmother Akin repeats ‘young at heart’, a phrase that is explored later. The scene is littered with the same impulses from the dance, giving a surreal energy transfer between the two.
Act Two is stylistically less smooth, jolting through time with both positive an negative mile stones marked by strobe lighting. Two (Sophie Couch) guides the scene and pace with ease as she visibly grows more stressed with each passing time jolt. Although an interesting convention choice, it was unclear at time whether the actors are cued by the light, or if it is the reverse. As the jolts became more rapid, the pace falters. This scene is grounded by a constant movement of domesticity, as the actors make and unmake the central bed. They build a life, they make plans, then they’re stripped back. The bed has almost become another character, as the actors use it to reiterate the ebb and flow of life and death.
Act three is a quartet, wonderfully punctuated by Jamie Ankrahs performance. Set in a dystopian care home, we follow A (Josie Charles) on her journey to the end. An effective convention choice is to have the actors play their ages as apposed to playing elderly, a directorial nod to the ‘young at heart’ idea constructed in Act one. The character B (Madeline Charlemange) gives voice to the plays central theme, the ageing population. She does so eloquently, and from the point of view of the older generation but with her own adolescent temper - helping the young audience see this debate with a new take. Within the scene the characters discuss ‘the option’ which is their way out of the overcrowded nursing home, sold by the emotionally distant Liaison, (Lucy Harvard). She comes and goes throughout the scene glued to her Perspex phone, the image of professional distance. She gives the role new meaning later as the façade slips and we see her become more human.
Another performance worth mentioning is the heartbreaking softness of C (Jamie Foulkes). For such a youthful cast, it is impressive to see each of them truly appreciate what it would be like to be older and forgotten by their families. Foulkes talks of his characters past with honesty and depth that surpasses his years, and I am heartbroken by his exit. The scene moves on, and Charlemange leaves her new love, A (Josie Charles) on stage alone. Charles visibly retires into her character, allowing a sombre tone to settle in the room. She finds her resolve and opts for the ‘option’ and climbs onto the bed. It is then that I realise that throughout the play, the bed has only been manipulated when referencing death. A realisation that sends tingles down my spine as Charles delivers her final speech of youth from the bed. Beautifully Designed by Christopher Hone, the actors are free to stand out from this world of grey with just the lively dissection of the times one would hope for when watching the National Youth Theatre, an institution that prides itself on challenging the social constructs young people face in our society. Lead by an award winning Director Matt Harrison, this play will hit its stride and I’m sure the actors will carry on going from strength to strength, honing their blossoming raw talent.
Written by @LeahG410