All quirky and endearing romcoms would do well to learn a thing or two
McManus and Crawford seem to inhabit their characters so powerfully that any deviation would seem like a crime.
A romcom about mental illness might sound like a recipe for disaster but Jack Elliott’s script deals beautifully with its tragicomic potential. The comedy never ridicules its characters as the jokes always fall on the right side of innocence. A sequence in which Jacqui and Robin dance the jive with each other over webcam is endlessly warm and funny. But nor does the play shy away from the darker side of its subject and this it does with equal tact. The play presents an emotional intelligence with startling clarity. The characters deal with loneliness, platitudinous advice sold as help and the constant suspicion that things are getting worse rather than better. The balance between these two elements works like a dream.
The acting is also startlingly good. Freddie McManus is wonderful as Robin, a children’s author who is seemingly resigned to his phobia. Claire Crawford too handles her neuroses with charm and subtlety. Their chemistry and progress together is eminently watchable. Will Beynon and Ellise Chappell are good in various supporting roles with detailed and well observed performances. As a side note the cast alternates their roles day by day. It seems to me impossible that this should be the case, not because Beynon and Chappell aren’t fine actors (they evidently are), but because McManus and Crawford seem to inhabit their characters so powerfully that any deviation would seem like a crime.
However, the production was not flawless. Some of the lighting cues seem to have no rhyme or reason behind them. The first scene is spent inexplicably in the dark. Random spotlights are interspersed into scenes that would have been served better by more standard lighting. Also the chirpy musical interludes, although well sung, quickly become grating. But when the writing and acting is so relentlessly strong it is churlish to complain.
Lucid, light and utterly charming, A History of Falling Things is romantic comedy at its best.