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Hasland Theatre Company tugs heart-strings with emotionally-charged drama

Falling at Hasland Playhouse.
Falling at Hasland Playhouse.

Theatre can open us up to deep emotions in a way few other mediums manage, and this Hasland Theatre Company production of Falling brilliantly illustrates the point, writes Roger Green.

A first-rate script, a quartet of actors who gave their all on this rollercoaster ride, a director who clearly understood both play and his cast, and a fine set added up to a highly successful launch of the company’s new season.

A couple’s struggle to conceive a child was the heart-rending thread running through the story, seven years of trying and now hope, as well as time, beginning to run out for teacher Linda (Nicky Beards).

Still fragile after yet another miscariage, she mulls things over on the sofa. “I don’t know how much longer I can wait,” she tells her partner, Pete (Steve Cowley), an ambitious gardener.

Successive rounds of IVF have left Linda bruised physically and emotionally, yet still without the child she is convinced would make her feel ‘special’. She keeps a video of their embryos, filmed at the clinic, plans the colours of their bedrooms and even names them.

Together, they imagine their babies as tiny personalities, floating above them, and able to choose when they might join the family. “You had your chance,” Pete light-heartedly chastises them, though inwardly still yearning to become a dad.

These were two outstanding, powerful performances, full of light and shade, Pete masking his despair and vulnerability with wisecracks, Linda’s sobs moving the stoniest heart watching.

Into the whirlpool steps Linda’s niece Grace, 16, sex-obsessed, moody and hormonal, to stay with the couple while she revises for her GCSEs. Lilly Beards’ cocky, at times outrageous teenager nevertheless turns out to provide the crucible in which a different future might be forged and with a surprise of her own which turns out to be much too close to home.

Her mum Kate (Ann Hawkswood), with two boys in the family, too, envies sister Linda’s freedom to do whatever she likes, untrammeled by the ties of motherhood, but as time goes on, begins to understand what childlessness truly entails, in a well-paced portrayal revealing hidden facets of her own character.

Tristan Weston’s direction, assisted by John Fox, ensures the play moves smoothly through a series of short interchanges between the cast, most effectively in the heart-to-heart conversations.

The dialogue flows so naturally, a credit not only to Shelley Silas’ well-honed writing, but also to the care and attention taken by the actors both in their rehearsals and in front of the audience.

An excellent set focusses on Pete and Linda’s authentic, lived-in flat, with the addition of a patio garden extending outwards at the side of the stage, a breathing space to cultivate fresh thoughts in the fresh air.

Two very minor criticisms – the musical interludes of chart numbers from 2002, when the play is set, were, I suspect, irrelevant for an elderly audience; and the lighting could have been a tad brighter for a moonlit conversation in the garden between Pete and Grace.

This was Tristan Weston’s final production at Hasland, a real high from which to bow out.

Falling continues through to Saturday night (September 22).