National Youth Theatre
The front of the programme to James Fritz’s The Fall at Southwark Playhouse is a slightly comical picture of a bed mostly taken up with an elderly woman sleeping. She is smiling. A little over a fifth of the bed is occupied by a young woman who is wide awake. Her expression is resentful.
The problem is obvious. The elderly by accident or design hog the resources and deprive the young.
In a fast-paced, engaging production with a fine cast, this play’s three stories have a simple answer to the problem. Kill the old.
That could make for a depressing evening for the usually older audiences who attend the theatre so the show laces its medicine with humour.
Boy (Niyi Akin) and Girl (Jesse Bateson) are looking for a place to have sex in the first of the stories. They decide on using some space in the huge house of the former lawyer ninety-two year old Mr. Butler who Girl cleans for.
They are a very physical pair, constantly moving about, physically touching each other and in Boy’s case attempting a hundred push-ups.
The dialogue of the young couple is for the most part funny, though much of it is about the unpleasant aspects of aging such as the smells of decay.
Finding Butler barely able to move and possibly dying they discuss whether it might be best to sit with him and allow him a gentle death.
The next story whisks us through the decades in the life of characters One (Troy Richards) and Two (Sophie Couch) who chat in often incomplete sentences about their limited living arrangements while repeatedly making and unmaking a bed.
They feel squeezed with their small child into the home of One’s mother, Jean, whose increasing frailty looks set to eat up her meagre resources which they had hoped to inherit. However, One has a solution that will solve the problem.
In both stories, the point of view is the young, and women are the potential mercy killers of elderly people we never see or hear.
The third story shifts the point of view to the elderly occupying a four-bed room in a care home where residents are offered a financial incentive to die. By signing up to a gentle euthanasia scheme, their chosen relative gets a compensation payment.
Four people with different ailments living in one room can be uncomfortable. D’s (Jamie Ankrah) nightmares and C’s (Jamie Foulkes) agonising night pain can wake the rest.
When the elderly women A (Josie Charles) and B (Madeline Charlemange) decide to sleep sexually together it causes embarrassment to others and is banned by the institution.
Such things along with loneliness and isolation can tempt them towards acceptance of the scheme.
The play is a light well performed riff on a prejudice which pitches young against old while the wealth is actually shifting from the majority to the extremely rich.
Although it entertains without ever engaging very seriously with the politics; it does leave us with a pessimistic view of the elderly as a burden everybody would be better off without.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna