The coming of Oxmas has signalled the final hurdle of 8th week essays and packing the suitcase for the return home (not to mention those crazy Christmas subject parties). So it’s no surprise that recent shows in Oxford have been musicals with all that jazz, magical pantomimes and more stand-up which leaves you falling on your arse with laughter.
If however, you wish to leave the festive frivolity for a while for an emotional tour-de-force of drama, make your way to the Oxford Hub to see Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down, a one act play which will knock you off your feet in its powerful portrayal of those who are picking up the pieces from the effects of death, abuse and rejection.
The play consists of the inter-woven monologues of three women, who each gradually flesh out their lives and personalities against the backdrop of a West Yorkshire town. Their lives are affected by an absent male character, who inflicts emotional, physical and psychological blows on all of them. It’s not easy watching: by the end of the first half hour, we have a dead child, a single mother and the beginnings of an abusive relationship.
So far, so cheerful. Yet the emotional intensity and drama is addictive, especially due to the proximity between the audience and the actors. The venue is a room, not a stage, so every sound, every facial expression hits harder. It were as though the three women, Ruby, Jodie and Lynette, were talking personally to you, which makes it all the more unsettling. The different characters almost always occupy the same, tiny space that is the stage, which adds to the way their separate plot strands overlap with each other.
Being from West Yorkshire myself, it has to be said that they did a pretty good job of making the characters authentic without delving into caricature. In particular Ruby (Phoebe Hames) gave not just a brilliantly-spoken dialect but a powerful performance of a young woman unlucky in love. Zoë Bullock is full of movement as the child-like Jodie, at times vibrant when telling us of her first love, and later vulnerable as she struggles to move on.
Claire Bowman opened the play as Lynette, yet for the first half lets her fellow actors take centre stage. When she becomes a victim of abuse, however, she becomes the focus. Her acting comes to the fore when she is able to conjure her abusive husband from an empty chair. Shepherd’s pie never looked so sinister.
The tone of the play gradually becomes more and more dramatic, yet despite the slightly OTT plot it never delves into soap opera. My only gripe with an overall astonishing production is the last 5 minutes. The plots gradually become more entangled in each other before they converge and all the characters meet, yet they diverge again into a rushed ending. The drama at some stages gets awkward with the hubbub of the Turl Street Kitchen downstairs, but given how the play is so different from what other venues have to offer, it’s a small loss. Unfortunately, the lack of publicity has possibly affected the amount of people who came on opening night. There are only two more performances to go, and all proceeds are going to the Oxford Hub. For those who are looking for something a bit different before the end of term, Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down is essential viewing.
Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down is showing at the Oxford Hub above the TSK until Sunday.