The dehumanising ordeal of confinement to a detention centre is the jumping point for a splintered nightmare, in which a woman’s grief at the loss of her husband and child plunges her into confusion, as Upswing’s first long-form indoor production returns to London. A company devoted to bringing elements of circus skills and dance together to create narratives which explore potent contemporary issues, Upswing have created an emotionally intense, if flawed, short piece.
The opening moments, in which the anonymous, benighted protagonist is harassed by immigration officials is masterful. The conflict between the horrific, Kafka-esque situation and the poignant passivity which Sera Adetoun brings to the role is chilling, and the use of aerial work to represent her helplessness is stunning. A perfect encapsulation of the ability of circus skills to visually realise internal emotional struggle, this sequence alone demonstrates the potential of Upswing’s approach, and the strength of director Vicki Amedume’s theatrical sense.
It is a shame the production never reaches this early peak again, though there are other moments to be savoured as visions of the Woman’s past happiness haunt her, at one point suspending her within a bunk bed like a goldfish in an impermeable bubble of memory. The production’s weakness lay, at least on the evening I saw it, in a lack of narrative drive and coherence; on a preference for the power of a moment at the expense of its relation to the whole. This may be in part explained by an injury among the cast, which reduced the running time and may have stolen from us the glue which would hold the fragments together. In its truncated form, however, and on an evening beset with technical problems, even at 40 minutes, Fallen began to drag.
These criticisms should not take away from the strength of the performances, however, nor from a number of well-realised design elements. Jules Maxwell’s score in particular finds tinges of West African music laid against stark, Autechre-esque glitch. Bearing many of the hallmarks of a work still under development, Fallen certainly demonstrates the potential of Upswing’s formal ambition, and may yet be raised to greater heights.