REVIEW: Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down
Intimate and at times harrowing, this complex play is carried off with warmth and grace
Three women are taking turns to speak. Seemingly strangers to each other, despite living in the same small town in South Yorkshire, they are actually tightly bound together by their associations with one man. Lynette (Grace England) is his wife. Ruby (Ashleigh Weir) is the mother of his child. And Jodie (Sarah Amy Taylor) witnessed him cause a boy to fall to his death – repressing the memory until his mother returns, eight years later, to jump where her son fell.
This man – Royce Boland – is not a character in the play; he is an invisible figure, and the terror that space invokes is created and felt by the three women's monologues. Different strands of the story are woven together with a lyric grace; the story of Al Janney, the boy who fell; Ruby's difficult engagement with her past choices, coupled with the burning hope that things can 'turn out all right, even when everything is all wrong'; the love of Lynette and Jodie for the river that winds through the story, felt since they were children.
The three performers work admirably together: Weir's complicated, spirited charisma, England's tranquil wistfulness giving away to intense anxiety that suffocates the audience and Taylor's brilliant childlike simplicity of expression balance each other beautifully. I would say that of the three, Ashleigh Weir is the clear standout, with incredible command over her character and her speeches, a 9/10 Yorkshire accent (of which she is the only one to attempt, though I don't know whether the script calls for accents) and a pitch-perfect navigation of both her character's comic warmth and more troubling aspects. Both other performers are also to be congratulated, and Grace England – despite taking her first couple of monologues to properly warm up to her role – is absolutely mesmerising in the play's most difficult, harrowing scenes (I was clutching the fabric of the chair in sheer terror).
The directorial choices are delicately done, so light of hand that they seem far easier than they must have actually been; the lighting is almost flawlessly carried off – tricky when the lighting has to move between three characters – and the sound effects were simple but timed extremely well (that whistling will haunt my dreams).
In terms of things I'd prefer: I'm not much keen on the ending (something feels a little too sudden about it? I'm not sure), and I feel like Jodie's arc could be better integrated into the play as a whole, but those are issues with a script written almost a decade before the performers were born, so it's not their concern as such. This Corpus production definitely prioritises emotional power over an absolute professional-quality finish, but with a play like this it's more important to get the feeling right.
This is an unusually sensitive handling of a play that is at times funny, at times intensely evocative, at times horrifying, and weaves the story around the three central figures gradually and beautifully. It's definitely worth a watch, both for the subject matter and for this particular production.