Adapted for stage by performing arts company Empath Eyes, The Fall is a forty-minute theatrical reimagining of Tarsam Singh’s 2006 adventure/fantasy film of the same name.
The company are dedicated to producing work with a raw and honest message, previously tackling classics such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1984, and Kafka’s Trial. Part exhibition, part performance, Empath Eyes have curated an experience with two layers of artistic communication. Performing at the Bay 56 Theatre in Notting Hill’s Acklam Village Market, the evening is a yield of creative responses to mental health.
By night, Acklam Village was littered with the ghosts of Portobello Market. Skeletons of stalls groaned in the breeze and nomadic crusts of fast-food items meandered on the pavement. The word ‘Theatre’ glared in white block-capitals against a heavy black drape, an entrance slit in its belly. Once inside, the space itself felt cavernous. The walls reeked of darkness, and a collection of artwork was displayed on the left-hand side. The event began with a thirty-minute exhibition: a journey of thirteen artists and their experiences with mental illness.
A vast stage and seating area occupied what remained of the space. A white, eight-metre screen served as a backdrop for a hospital bed, with a bedside table to match. Doused in neatly-pressed white linen, the set was suggestive of a clinical world – emotionless and empty. A small orchestra sat to the left of the stage, and seven white canvas’ with faint black drawings hung to the right.
Directed by Tarzan Tahsin, The Fall follows Roy (played by Robert Rowe), a middle-aged man confined to a ward in a general hospital after a failed suicide attempt. He meets Alexandria (Keira Jozana), a seven-year-old patient with a broken arm, whom he tricks into bringing him painkillers with the intention of overdosing. He tells her vibrant stories of five heroes on a quest to overthrow a fictitious Governor Odeus, characters that are held hostage by his chronic suicidal ideation. Roy’s storytelling becomes dominated by his self-destructive behaviour, yet his desperation becomes swayed by his promise to finish the story for this innocent child, and the sudden pressure that this creates.
Roy’s stories come to life through impressive animation by Freddee S Lewis, Andreea Stan, Diana Garcia, and Cecilia Lu. Projected onto the screen behind his bed, Roy interacts with the animated world of his own creation. Pre-recorded footage of the character of Alexandria also allows her to appear as a projection, creating an interesting relationship between the two characters as live actor and projection connect with one another.
Accompanied by live music of an original score, there is an overlap between the projected world and the physical world as Roy produces objects from under the covers of his hospital bed, and passes them to his projected cast member. It is a shame that such exquisite moments of stagecraft were lost to its surroundings.
Despite its dog-eared and aesthetically displeasing appearance, the make-shift venue was somewhat endearing. Unfortunately, it was the wrong space for this type of production and severely limited a total engagement with the piece. In addition, the event as a combination of both an exhibition and performance was disorientating, with not enough time to appreciate both areas of expression in their own right.
As a response to mental health, the project is not without potential. However, poor creative decisions found the piece lacking, leaving the event with the same feeling of aimlessness as the pastel bunting hanging above Acklam Village Market, as they flapped profusely in the March breeze.
The Fall played at Bay 56 Theatre until 19 March. For more information about the production company see empatheyes.org.