Sophia Flohr and Harrison MacNeill put in two powerful performancesJohannes Hjorth

Free Fall is a beautifully intimate play that brings together two completely different characters on a toll bridge on the Dartford Crossing. Roland (Harrison MacNeill) is a tired and world-weary toll machine supervisor on a shift, who comes across Andrea (Sophia Flohr), a young woman who has decided to kill herself. Riss Obolensky’s production captures the resulting moments of developing intimacy between these two characters well and with an eye for detail, although it occasionally feels as though some of the more emotional scenes are somewhat lacking in intensity.

For the most part, MacNeill and Flohr give very strong performances in the two roles, and have a wonderful on-stage chemistry. MacNeill’s accent was particularly impressive; I have seen him perform in various productions with convincing Russian, Irish, London accents, as well as his native Scottish, so this is clearly a talent of his. It was non-intrusive, with an impressive range, and had I not known better, I could never have discerned that it was not his usual way of speaking. Accent aside, his overall characterisation was excellent and highly detailed, without appearing forced in the slightest. The same can be said of Flohr – her character was intricately built and, refreshingly, she managed to avoid resorting to caricature, a trap into which she could easily have fallen in this role. She was especially impressive at the beginning when contemplating the jump as her fear felt palpable and real, her emotional distress genuine. Together MacNeill and Flohr have remarkable chemistry, and it is this chemistry, more than the individual performances, that brings out the play’s dark comedy. Obolensky’s even-handed direction cleverly and subtly tracks the changing power dynamic and growing emotional bond between the two and allows the play to hold the audience’s attention.

This said, it did feel as though the actors struggled when it came to the demanding emotional passages. MacNeill’s emotional scenes felt somewhat stilted and forced, and he seemed too conscious of his physicality to deliver the lines with power. He should perhaps explore emotion through stillness in order to open up some of the lines more. His final monologue was more successful (and indeed very good), as it felt much more natural and less strained, as though he was easing the words out, and not forcing his emotion as in earlier scenes with Flohr. Flohr’s emotional scenes also suffered slightly, as it felt as though she was somewhat disconnected from the text. Occasionally she sacrificed depth of meaning for volume, which resulted in a certain woodenness, though again it should be noted that her opening emotional scene was very strong and devoid of cliché, so perhaps it was the pressure of bouncing off another actor that damaged each of their performances. This should not be taken as a major criticism, as generally speaking the performances were very strong.

The comedy in the play was a strong aspect, and credit for this should go to Obolensky’s direction, as many of the most comedic moments were physical gags that I doubt were written into the script. Small moments of comedy, such as MacNeill’s attempts to bandage Flohr, brought the script to life and provided welcome comic relief at the ideal moments. Obolenky never allows the play to get over-serious, and keeps the deeper and more poignant themes subtly embedded. This worked well, as the audience was left to come to their own conclusions and opinions without anything being forced down their throats. Perhaps the great strength of the direction was in its subtlety and restraint.

The set design was another strong aspect, especially after the opening scene – the kitchen set that was built is one of the best sets that I have seen in the Corpus Playroom, and is the same set that is being used for Killer Joe, so credit must also go to them. What made it particularly impressive was that it was also fully functional, so the actors could interact with any part of the set that they wanted to, such as kettles and microwaves. Obviously one of the difficulties with the play is that the opening scene takes place on the bridge and the rest in the kitchen. This was overcome successfully by placing a small box in the Corpus corner to act as the bridge, although the lighting, or perhaps a curtain drawn across the stage, could (and probably should) have been used to disguise the kitchen in the background. In general, however, the lighting was very effective due to its unobtrusive nature, which worked excellently with the play as a whole.

Overall, I can highly recommend this play. It is a beautiful, subtle and sometimes moving production of an excellent play that never loses the audience’s attention. While the actors occasionally struggle with the emotional scenes, they excel in the comic scenes and the overall effect is a very successful and cohesive staging of an understated yet poignant play. In a term where the ADC mainshows have been consistently unreliable, I implore audiences to explore the excellent work that is being showcased in the Corpus Playroom, of which this production is a solid example.

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