It would be easy to take a trip to National Youth Theatre’s production of The Fall with just a hint of unconscious bias. There’s something in the word ‘youth theatre’ that somehow tends to conjure slightly negative connotations, however hard one might try to suppress them. Luckily, any unfounded expectations are smashed completely.
From the very first moment, the actors bring a burst of energy and boldness with them to the stage. The play, performed in the round of the Southwark Playhouse with only a bed in the middle of the stage, opens with a short and sharp dance sequence, which is repeated in between the three scenes. It has an almost challenging vibe to it, as if the cast are celebrating their youth and daring us to do differently.
The same confidence oozes out of their acting performances. In a series of scenes, we trace first a teenage couple in the house of an old man, then two struggling parents, then a group of elderly people in a futuristic care home, in which there is always ‘the other option’. The cast changes for every scene, but it seems we are following the same woman throughout her life.
James Fritz’ writing is skilful, and he has woven a lot of humour into his script. The actors exploit this well; their excellent comedic timing results in a great deal of laughter from the audience. But there are also quiet and tender moments in this play that asks how we treat age and ageing in the millennial era.
And it’s not a very promising picture. In the rather dystopian scene of current-day millennials sitting in a care home of the future, we see them swiping their screens, craving some attention and often concluding that their children do not need them anymore, and they are nothing but a burden.
The juxtaposing of under-25-year-old actors with the increasingly older characters they are portraying is interesting, and the imagination does not have to stretch too far to believe them. The play will resonate in different ways with different ages, but for current-day millennials, the most striking effect might be a deeper level of empathy for the elderly in care homes. Seeing them portrayed by these young actors makes one realise that these old people are at heart the same people we see before us in the flesh: young and alive, and really, not that different from us.
The Fall is a poignant comment on modern issues for different generations that is heart-warming and -breaking at the same time. Fritz’ writing will strike a chord and make you think, and Matt Harrison has done a great job in directing a very talented group of actors to bring the play alive. And while they might not provide a lot of hope for the future of millennials, they sure do for the future of theatre.