This piece was originally written for artsHub.
A romantic-comedy about two keraunothnetophobes, James Graham’s A History of Falling Things is a gentle, humorous and ultimately moving play about overcoming your fears and venturing outside of your comfort zone (literally, in this case).
Robin and Jacqui are both keraunothnetophobes – that is, they both suffer the fear of things falling from the sky. When they both meet online in a chatroom for others like themselves, they find each other reaching out across the space between them, through their screens, and ultimately facing their fears.
Directed by Nicole Buffoni, Graham’s play unfolds on a split-stage: one half, stage right, is Robin’s room; the other half, stage-left, is Jacqui’s room. Where a larger theatre might have made more use of space, Buffoni and her designer, Anna Gardiner, have created a tiny world – almost as small as that of Robin and Jacqui – and the play bubbles and hums inside it, before spilling over with its infectious life. Along the rear of the stage is a tall wall, with doors, windows, and cupboards ingeniously set into it, concealing everything from changes of clothes to food and telephones, and Buffoni and her cast use this to its full (and beautiful) extent. The only downside here is the way the wall doubles as a projector screen (with Tim Hope’s simple but never simplistic projections) – some moments are lost by the people sitting on the far edges of the audience, though the on-stage action is never obscured. Christopher Page’s lighting is simple, clearly and cleverly marking Robin and Jacqui’s worlds side-by-side, as well as opening out moments with bursts of golden and coloured light. Alistair Wallace’s sound design is rich and textured, and uses existing music to simple and eloquent effect.
Eric Beecroft’s Robin – a children’s book author – is shyly geeky, a bumbling young man who speaks in bits and bursts, but his heart is big; there is an honesty to Beecroft’s performance which is instantly endearing and by the end of the play you’ll find yourself cheering for him, just as much as for Jacqui. Played by Sophie Hensser, there is a similarly endearing quality to Jacqui which makes it very hard not to instantly like her. But there is also a poignant side to Jacqui which makes her struggle to overcome her keraunothnetophobia all the more engaging.
The supporting cast – Merridy Eastman as Robin’s talkative mum, Lesley; Brian Meegan as Jacqui’s well-meaning dad, Reece; Sam O’Sullivan as the enabling courier Jimmy – are all honestly played, and there is a moving sense of compassion between them towards and about Robin and Jacuqi’s fears, as well as in their own outlook on the world. They, like Graham, don’t judge the others, but try to help them as best they can.
The only other quibble with Buffoni’s production are the phone conversations between Robin and his psychologist John, which are played in almost-darkness, punctuated only by animations on the rear wall. While the conversations are a largely-essential part of Graham’s play, their staging is a little clumsy and peppers the otherwise swift-moving production with curious pockets of inactivity; perhaps if we saw Robin and/or Jacqui going about their daily lives in theatrical half-light the dip in momentum would not seem so prominent.
Graham’s play is a little slow to kick into gear, especially for the first twenty minutes as he sets up the story and circumstances surrounding his characters, but once we are invested in the story, right there alongside Robin and Jacqui, Lesley, Reece, and Jimmy, the play ticks over at a gently brisk pace, and we never really want it to end.
While A History of Falling Things is a story of boy-meets-girl, but it’s also more than that – it’s about families and parents, plans which don’t always go as planned, about stories and Pluto, the kindness of strangers, and the courage to reach out to someone you barely know. And while the ending, when it comes, is foreshadowed almost right from the start, it’s hard not to grin with all the giddiness of being in love yourself, and it makes for a gently sweet and entertaining ninety minutes, and proves that sometimes the best love stories do happen in full glorious Technicolor.