Spitting shards of lines and disjointed speech, three performers explain their individual journeys against the backdrop of an inexplicable catastrophe: one day, twelve planes fell from the sky.
Recent news has embedded a terminology into our heads: crash site, black box, terrorism. Hearing these words in Jacqui Honess-Martin’s play and thinking about the topicality of the MH17 disaster it seems as if We Have Fallen might be a political or social commentary, or perhaps an examination of the environmental impact of flying. But it quickly veers into the realm of sci-fi and conspiracy thriller (“the laws of physics have changed”, “there are MI6 everywhere”), an exciting short story whose narrative threads have been picked apart and re-stitched on stage.
Jennifer (Lydia Larson) is a flight recorder expert, Richard (Oliver J Hembrough) a frequently flying asset manager, Pam (Barbara Wilshere) a political activist who has camped outside Heathrow for three years to protest a third runway. The catastrophe sets them off on different paths across Europe and the audience receives their stories through fragments and half lines as the three break off and pick up each other’s lines.
Each narrative bends towards a distinct genre: Jennifer is rational, logical. A visit to the crash site shocks her, she has to abandon her faith in science and the laws of nature. Richard is a rich man out of his depth, stranded in Moscow when flights are grounded. He is characterised, somewhat simplistically, as brash and chauvinistic, caring only about money. Eventually he repents from his laddish machismo and hits on something close to empathy, to love. Pam’s story is told more poetically with a wistful tone and Wilshere gives her a fiery idealism.
Disconnected to begin with, eventually the three begin to intersect and connections are made. At the moment when Jennifer realises the laws of physics have changed, the speech shifts from being indirect and apostrophic to being direct, as the performers no longer talk exclusively to the audience but also to each other.
Behind the performers, to the side of an otherwise dark stage, six fluorescent strips of light fan from a point on the ceiling, spreading into the shape of an aeroplane wing. On this side of the stage the performers are drowned in the acid neon glare, on the other side they are in darkness.
Whether it’s espionage or something supernatural, the central mystery is fun and gets across the helplessness of being on the wrong side of a conspiracy, not knowing who to talk to and who to trust. If there is a deeper provocation in We Have Fallen, it’s that our world is heavily reliant on air travel – what would happen if the world became grounded? Everything would probably be ok, it would just take a bit more time to get to Australia.
We Have Fallen is at Underbelly Cowgate (Venue 61) until 24 August. For more information and tickets go to: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/we-have-fallen