A History of Falling Things, by James Graham | Directed by Nicole Buffoni

Ensemble Theatre (http://ensemble.com.au) | Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, Sydney | Until 20 August

Chicken Licken was the probably the first book I ever read. In a nutshell, it tells the story of a chicken who is hit on the head by a falling acorn. Said chicken believes that the sky is falling and rushes off to tell the king. On his journey he gathers an array of poultry friends — Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky et al — who all subscribe to this theory.

A History of Falling Things in many ways follows the same trajectory. It is the story of Robin (Eric Beecroft) and Jacqui (Sophie Hensser), two seemingly ordinary 20-something, middle-class suburbanites, who both suffer from severe anxiety caused by a condition called keraunothnetophobia — a fear of falling man-made satellites.

In this most unusual love story, they meet in cyberspace and begin a video-chat centred relationship during which they articulate their fears and symptoms.

Beecroft and Hensser both totally convince in their portrayal of this curious couple.  As they feel their way through their complex relationship and try so hard to enter the exterior world, they intimately share with the audience the inner working of their psyche, their shyness, guilt and sincerity.

Lesley (Merridy Eastman), Robin’s mother, and Reece (Brian Meegan), Jacqui’s father, are supportive, caring and concerned. It is through their nuanced performances that we are able to get a forensic insight into the debilitating and crippling medical issues that face their offspring.

Eastman is also very, very funny as she provides welcome comic relief; as does Sam O’Sullivan, in the role of the cupid courier, who assists in the physical meeting of the two house-bound lovers.

There is a lightness of touch about both writing and production that never allows the ideas to sag. Nicole Buffoni’s deft direction facilitates the intimacy required to ensure the audience’s empathy as opposed to voyeuristic complicity. And Anna Gardiner’s clever and complex staging enhances the beauty and pathos that underpins this most modern romance.

This is a welcome, quirky tale that investigates, in depth, the times that we live in. Thoughtful and well constructed it is also emotionally intelligent. The culmination is a perhaps too well-packaged but that aside, cast and crew should be thoroughly congratulated on a most impressive production.

Thumbs up!

Above and below: Eric Beecroft and Sophie Hensser. Images: Phil Erbacher.