The History of Falling Things

The History of Falling Things
By James Graham. Ensemble Theatre (NSW). July 7 – August 20, 2016.

The Australian premiere of Welsh playwright James Graham’s delightfully poignant play sits beautifully on the intimate Ensemble stage. First produced in Wales in 2009, the play has been acclaimed in the UK and Broadway. It’s a gentle, touching story about love, fear … and some of the good things about modern technology. In the deft hands of director Nicole Buffoni, this production finds the “all heart and love” the play deserves.

Robin and Jacqui are both afraid to leave their homes because they suffer from, keraunothnetophobia, the unusual fear of things that fall from the sky, Robin since a shoe fell on his head when he was a small boy, Jacqui more recently, when she was trapped on the tube during the London bombings. She desperately wants to overcome her fear; he is too frightened of failure to try.

When they connect via a website on keraunothnetophobia, they begin an on line relationship that blossoms, and grows, encouraged by their loving but concerned parents and Jimmy, the courier who becomes their go-between.

Buffoni and designer Anna Gardiner have artfully conceived an atmosphere that suggests their withdrawn existence and the fear with which they live. Pastel-coloured flats stretching high above the stage evoke both the sky that haunts them, as well as the walls that form their separate sanctuaries. Striking visuals by Tim Hope emphasise the beauty of their relationship and their almost childish belief and trust in each other. Lighting (Christopher Page) and sound (Alistair Wallace) accentuate the subtlety of the direction and the naturalness of the exceptional acting.

Eric Beecroft is utterly convincing as Robin. He has embodied the turmoil of the character, every hesitant gesture, every perplexed expression, every tentative victory portraying the grip this uncommon fear has on him. Yet he also finds the gentleness of the character, his sense of humour and kindness – and eventually his tenuous strength.

Sophie Hensser has created a very sensitive and perceptive Jacqui. The complexities of her reactions and expressions bring even greater depth to this carefully constructed role. Her use of a smile or gentle pause to change the pace or tempo of an exchange is extraordinary, whether it be to draw Robin out a little, or to mollify her worried father.

Together Beecroft and Hensser make the characters, the realness of their relationship, the fear that binds and hinders them, and their desperate attempts to reach beyond it, comprehensively plausible … and charmingly funny.

Merridy Eastman and Brian Meegan show the demanding tenacity and understanding needed to support a loved one affected by mental illness. Eastman as Robin’s mother is awkwardly attentive, constant and encouraging. Meegan as Jacqui’s father is compassionate and quirkily empathic.

Jimmy, the courier, becomes an understanding artbiter, despite being called out at odd hours. Sam Sullivan makes the most of this small, but engaging role.

There are some beautiful theatrical moments in this production where medias merge to create the surrealism that keraunothnetophobia suggests, and the gentleness of the love and trust that grows before you on the stage. This is a stunning production that brings together insightful writing, direction and design and the perceptive sensitivity of a very talented cast. It really is a ‘must see’.

Carol Wimmer

Images: Eric Beecroft and Sophie Hensser, & Brian Meegan and Sam O'Sullivan. Photographer: Phil Erbacher.

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