As theatres go, the BT studios is a fairly claustrophobic space, nestled as it is in an attic of Dostoevskian nightmares. Appropriate then that it should house A History of Falling Things, a play whose main premise is the limitation of space. It charts the online relationship of two sufferers of keraunothnetophobia – the irrational fear that upon leaving ones room, one shall be struck down by the errant remains of the last sputnik i.e. the fear of falling satellites. Robin (James Aldred) has had the condition since childhood, Jacqui (Nathalie Wright) since being trapped on the London Underground during the 7/7 bombings. Unable to leave their rooms, they cultivate an awkward, charming and frustrating relationship over web-cam. However, therein lies the drama: is it frustrating? From Jacqui’s perspective the cabin fever is evidently genuine, but Robin appears to obtain a perverse pleasure from his isolation, describing himself at one stage as ‘happy’ with his hermetic life. The fear for both seems moreover a manifestation of deeper psychological issues.
It is interesting to watch a play in which the central characters never exchange dialogue face-to-face and credit must go to the main actors for keeping us entertained despite this. Indeed the actors addressed their laptops as easily as Hamlet would a skull. The lead male, James Aldred delivers a rounded performance and Nathalie Wright is excellent opposite him, effortlessly natural in her portrayal (the only artificiality being the assumption that this Robin might be in her league). Rebecca Heitlinger and George Bustin provide breezy Northern comedy with consummate ease, although there are some rather strange cameos involving a ‘courier’ distinguishable only because of a spanking new pair of maroon Pumas. The ending lends the play a more Richard Curtis feel than it really should; it closes with the line “Jacqui; it ends with ‘u’ and ‘i.’” Wright’s discomfort is almost palpable in saying these lines and I don’t blame her. The play’s strengths lie in its psychological intrigue, not the imitation of a low-grade rom-com. But the fault is the writer’s and the play is well co-ordinated by Freya Judd, requiring a lot of technical details and complex staging because of the nature of the relationship. An enjoyable performance, but one that could do with some claustrophobic Raskolnikovian bite to temper the sugary sweet ending.