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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

The Fall
Original Theatre Online   Summer 2022

Drew Hewitt's drama is one of those plays that lie to you, leading you to think they're about one thing and then abruptly becoming about something else.

That technique can be intriguing and stimulating or it can be annoying, since it negates the value of all the mental and emotional commitment you've made to the play up to the reversal point.

And if there are more than one rejections of all that has gone before well, in this case the playwright is fortunate that some absolutely first-rate performances carry us over the rough spots.

Like two other Original Theatre productions released online in the summer of 2022, The Fall was staged earlier this year in rehearsed readings that is, the actors carry scripts but have fully developed their characterisations and has been skilfully and sensitively recorded.

It opens with a bit of disorientation, as the squabbling middle-age couple played by Sara Stewart and Adrian Lukis seem to be overacting badly, as if in a poor imitation of a brittle Noel Coward comedy, while the writing shifts into a poor imitation of Edward Albee.

But just as you begin to lose hope, the playwright pulls his first switch. What we are watching is a play-within-the-play, a married couple of actors performing in the Coward-Albee mashup they've written to star themselves. (For those collecting footnotes, David Hare and Tom Stoppard come to mind here.)

Hewitt's story really begins when the actress has a breakdown in mid-performance and then goes mute. She is brought to a female psychiatrist (Alex Kingston) and the bulk of the play is then their sessions together.

The shrink gets her to start talking, and eventually to explain why she broke down. (Let's just say we're now in Pirandello country.)

The woman's mental and spiritual crisis is explored in the discussions with the psychiatrist and in her still-silent interactions with her husband, and the central section of the play involves you mentally and emotionally.

And then the playwright throws it all out.

What we've just spent an hour exploring is not what's really bothering the woman something else entirely is.

That something else is very serious and deeply emotive, but you may well feel fooled and cheated when everything you've been caring about is discarded as irrelevant.

If you stick with the play despite all the tricks played on you, it will be because of the performances. Sara Stewart never lets us waver from believing in the patient's pain, a particularly impressive accomplishment when you realise she does much of it in silence.

Director Charlotte Peters' camera stays on Stewart's eyes as they burn with anger or anguish, while her spoken scenes make it clear there is a real person hiding behind the brittle wit or stubborn silence.

Stewart even carries a somewhat overwritten climactic speech about a dream that would have stopped the play dead in less assured hands.

Alex Kingston is stuck with the near-clich role of the all-wise psychiatrist, but individualises her enough to keep her believable.

And Adrian Lukis provides solid support as the loving husband, particularly in a speech describing how a change in one line reading can affect a whole play (an idea that nicely resonates outward) and in a beautifully understated topper to Stewart's dream story.

If The Fall doesn't lose you in one or another of its rejections of all that went before, it will hold you through the power of the direction and acting.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of The Fall - Original Theatre Online 2022