Notes on Falling Leaves

Ayub Khan-Din
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs
(2004)

This short piece by the writer of East is East is something of an oddity. It explores the love between a middle-aged mother and her grown-up son from a most unusual perspective.

The mother, played by Pam Ferris, is in some kind of institution having suffered a physical breakdown, possibly an acute stroke. The first half of the play explores the thoughts of her son (Ralf Little).

These are sometimes wry but more often elegiac and poetic as he reflects on life with his mother in better times and skirts around the event that changed both of their lives. He also subtly paints a picture of aspects of North Country life as it is lived today.

It seems initially that Pam Ferris will do little but look bemused and struggle to take in anything of life. However, as the son's monologue dries up, his mother starts an interior speech of her own.

This is very reminiscent of Beckett at his most obscure with much repetition as Ayub Khan-Din tries to look inside her damaged mind. She is incapable of clear thought or meaningful speech but does convey the joy of being a new mother. She also demonstrates that despite her apparent senselessness she is aware of her son's presence.

Notes on Falling Leaves is not intended to be easy to fathom but under Marianne Elliott's clever direction, brings out a failure to communicate between generations even when there is much unspoken love under the surface. It also features good acting from both cast members, particularly Pam Ferris who does extremely well in a very difficult part.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Reviewer: Philip Fisher