Selma Dimitrijevic’s decision to cast male actors in female roles is certainly a bold decision. It’s not original, of course: Shakespearean female characters have been played by men for hundreds of years, until women were given the opportunity to tread the boards. Just as in those cases, within a couple of minutes the audience is able to suspend belief and buy into the gender reversal that takes place on stage. A mother and daughter re-enact a typical family conversation and, in doing so, highlight how society often takes these close relationships for granted. Those treasured few will always be in each other’s lives, listening, enquiring. Until they’re not. Only then is it apparent how important these day-to-day interactions are and how they imperceptibly shape who an individual is.
In Gods Are Fallen and All Safety Gone, stereotypically British conversational topics make an appearance – the weather, family (Aunt Marie) and cups of tea. The re-emergence of variations to this scene emphasises the mundane, the forgettable. But each time there is a subtle emotional shift, with daughter Annie (Max Runham) becoming more sullen and moody. Conversations about her recently-ended relationship with Mark spark different reactions – Annie flares up more and more to the point of almost bullying her mother (Joe Caffrey), who withdraws more and more into a timid shell of her former self. Each time the scene ending is followed by a cup of tea, a pause and a reset. Dimitrijevic doesn’t feel the need to rush this – pregnant pauses on the whole are used to great effect here, particularly in the final scene where Caffrey and Runham exhibit pinpoint timing to eke out the maximum impact in every single sentence. Simple, plainly spoken and straightforward.
Even the movement is set at a deliberately slow pace. The actors aimlessly wander around the stage, pausing only momentarily at times to deliver dialogue. The contrast between this and the final scene, in which Caffrey and Runham sit side-by-side on a box, is apparent. It indicates once again how both characters take each other for granted in their daily lives until the point at which one is no longer present. It is simple, effective choices such as these that elevate this play – seemingly inconsequential interactions become meaningful and potentially unremarkable material becomes exceptional.
Gods Are Fallen and All Safety Gone played at the Brighton Spiegeltent until 18 May as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. For more information, see the Brighton Fringe website.