Beautiful animation and musical score aren’t enough to carry EmpathEYES’ troublingly ablist The Fall at Acklam Village Market, which fails to deliver on its main theme: storytelling.
Situated in Theatre 56, a surprisingly spacious warehouse in the heart of Acklam Village Market, The Fall tells the story of a jaded elderly man, Roy (Robert Rowe) as he lies in a hospital bed. A young girl with a broken arm approaches him, and he tells her stories as a means of manipulation. It transpires that he suffers from a deep depression and hopes that Alexandria will assist him.
The production is based on Tarsem Singh’s film of the same name, which I must confess I have not previously encountered. Regardless, it’s clear that one of the show’s biggest failings is that it is a longer story condensed into forty minutes. As a result, the relationship between the two main characters and the supposedly-captivating imaginary world Roy conjures do not have time to develop. For a story about storytelling, the narrative quite simply does not achieve its aims.
There is some potential in this show. The acting is fairly solid, if somewhat hampered by the fact it needs to be timed so strictly with the projection and voiceover. (If anyone needs convincing this is entirely possible, I beg you to go and see 1927’s work – they have truly mastered the art of this). I have little doubt that part of the reason for abbreviating the film so drastically is that animation, particularly animation which needs to interact with live theatre, takes a huge amount of time, effort and skill in order to work.
The animation itself is aesthetically stunning and well executed; the illustrations shift stylistically with remarkable fluidity. Equally, Max Wilson’s score performed live is complex and captivating. However, these modes of storytelling cannot carry a plot if the foundations are not well-structured in the first place. In addition to this, I can’t help but wonder that the choice of such stationary live action was part motivated by the subject matter, but also out of logistical necessity to facilitate the projections. One does have to be conscious that animation in theatre needs to complement and collaborate with the theatrical space, not overshadow or replace it.
Which brings me to my biggest issue with The Fall, and that is its presentation of disability. It emerges that Roy is paralysed, and describes how he has no desire to live a ‘half life’ – yes, those words exactly. The relationship between his physical and mental state is not explored in any way; it is merely presented as inevitable that disability is entirely undesirable, to the point where suicide is a logical option. Now, I am not saying practitioners should shy away from addressing disability in theatre: indeed, there is a huge need for increased diversity and exploration of disability on our stages. But the operative word here is exploration, of which there is none. This kind of writing, albeit unintentional, is at best gratuitous, and at worst deeply offensive.
One cannot help but admire EmpathEYES’ ambition with their work on The Fall, but it seems that they are running before they can walk. They need to start with the story and go from there, as no amount of aesthetically glorious features, regardless of their virtuosity, can rescue a show with no tale to tell.