Can't Stand Up For Falling Down
Corpus Playroom, Tues 19th Feb- Sat 23rd Feb, 7pm
Three apparently separate but ultimately intertwined monologues form the basis of Marjam Idriss' production of Richard Cameron's Can't Stand Up For Falling Down. Lynette (Lili Thomas), Jodie (Chloe France) and Ruby (Jesse Haughton-Shaw) are all young women in a small Yorkshire town whose lives cross paths with that of a brutal bully named Royce. It is their encounters with him that spur the narratives, yet he never actually appears on stage, ensuring that the play is centred on the women who might otherwise remain peripheral. This sense of focus is intensified by the staging: a spotlight shines on each character as she tells fragments of her story, while the other two actors remain present but silent and still, as mute witnesses.
The actors handle the swift shifts between monologues well and France proves particularly adept at building her speeches up to a climax, which is then delayed as one of the other girls takes over. As the play switches from narrating the past to the present day, she does well to display a distinctly more mature Jodie, moving on from the excitable and frightened ten-year-old girl she portrayed in the first half.
Thomas also deserves a particular mention for her transformation. In the opening monologue, in which she prays for an ambulance approaching her house not to be for her mother, she plays Lynette as a wild-eyed, intense girl with an ethereal quality to her, but after her character's marriage her face visibly tightens and the dreaminess is only sometimes visible beneath the guarded, stony surface. Her story is the one that has the most impact, not because it is the most shocking, but because Thomas has perfected a careful balance of fragility and defiance, which resonates with the message of the play as a whole.
The set, comprised of household objects, even the proverbial kitchen sink, dangling from wires in the background, is another constant reminder that these women are oppressed and have no choice but to make the best of what they are given. The main challenge of staging this play lies in being able to draw out the righteous resentment of the characters to such a degree that the ending seems to be both believable and to lie in a moral grey area. In this it succeeded.
Despite strong performances from all three actors, there were a few moments when the pace lagged and the audience was not gripped in the way it needed to be in a production so reliant on words. This was often due to the actors not taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by the script. For instance, although the play is very far from comic, there were scenes such as Jodie's pub trip with work colleagues, or her description of her exact relationship with a boy (hand holding and only one kiss) when a slight change in tone would not have gone amiss and could have served to make the tragedy all the more poignant by comparison.
As it was, in the middle section the overload of intense emotion made some of the more sentimental sections of Ruby's monologue feel a little vapid and less compelling than the rest of the play. Overall though, it was brilliant to see three strong actors work in conjunction to produce a disturbingly realistic tale of domestic violence and female desperation.