Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"Fall" - Edinburgh Fringe 2008

Written by Zinnie Harris and Directed by Artistic Director Dominic Hill, "Fall" is The Traverse's flagship production at this year's Fringe. Perhaps more topical than expected, it considers the aftermath of a civil war and how the new regime should deal with the war criminals of the past. Just the kind of angst ridden piece the critics should love. Only problem is - the play is a mess.

Given that fairly provocative statement this 'review' will be somewhat different from what we usually do here at View From The Stalls. Our style is normally to keep plot summaries as vague as possible and to avoid disclosing anything approaching 'Spoilers', but here in order to explain our response to Fall I think we'll need to look closely at the play. So... if you want to see the show with unpolluted eyes don't click "read more"

We meet the play's central character Kate, who has discovered that her now dead husband was a war criminal, as she visits one of his former commanders in prison as he awaits execution. She's looking for answers as to who her husband really was, which is understandable enough. But it just doesn't seem plausible that such visits would be permitted, particularly given the way we see the prisoner being treated. And this is the one aspect of the play that did work - after a fashion. This idea of a woman caught in the glare of publicity with a public unsure whether to believe her story had promise - add in potential charges of harbouring him and I'm definitely interested. But this whole aspect is discarded fairly early on.

The other central character is the nation's somewhat reluctant Prime Minister who we meet with his wife Kiki and adviser Howard. After a random encounter with a campaigner against the executions he and his adviser concoct a scheme to allow the campaigner to decide the fate of those awaiting execution. They figure that after seeing all the evidence even she will order the execution which will satisfy public demand but insulate them from international condemnation. Now if that isn't absurd enough, when she opts out of the role they decide Kate should step in to make the decision. Sorry? What? Yeah, right, whatever.

To be fair, after that it flows reasonably logically but by then it had lost any credibility for me as a serious piece of theatre. And trust me the summary above makes it all sound much tighter than the bloated piece of writing it is. Throw in a violent prison guard (shock), the startling revelation that war criminals aren't nice people, and an irrelevant new love interest for Kate and we start to get a flavour of the muddle we have here.

But it's not simply the plot - the whole tone is all over the place. As a huge admirer of the works of Joss Whedon I'm pretty open to placing light and dark in close proximity, but here it fails spectacularly. Many of the 'political' scenes appear to try to evoke a "Yes Minister" kind of feel, but the non verbal signals are all wrong and the dark lighting and soundtrack overshadow any humour.

Now this being serious and challenging adult drama expected to win awards it quickly aims to tick all the required boxes - violence, violence against women, sexual violence, nudity, violent nude death. Enough already - we get it. Serious. Challenging. Adult. Drama. Shame it didn't make me think.

The performances are fine but there's nothing here to make me care about the characters - even Kate. And as for those awaiting execution whose lives are on the line, well most people will have a view on the matter one way or the other. But do we actually care which happens?

This play said absolutely nothing to me and provided very limited entertainment. But as always, your mileage may vary. I've read some positive reviews (including Bluedog) and a couple we chatted to in the bar loved it, although there also others with a mixed response.

Oh yes, it also started 35 minutes late due to "the set proving complicated".

Fall runs at The Traverse until the 24th August (excluding Mondays) Times vary.