Sydney Festival Review: Fall Fell Fallen – Bay 17, Carriageworks (Performances to 24th January)

The Lonely Circus production of Fall Fell Fallen has a twist. It’s not the lone tightroper, and it’s not the experimental music accompaniment. It’s Acrobat Sébastien Le Guen falling. A lot. He doesn’t hurt himself or anything. It’s not exactly for the epic fail crowd, though it does disarm with the same gravitational force.

Thankfully, he doesn’t always fall, and I wanted him to succeed. Partly to see him do things I can’t do, like turning a tightrope into a psychedelic guitar string, or using lumber for a demonstration of impressive balance, strength and physical humour. Partly, I was charmed by his embarrassment when a bead of sweat falls from his forehead as he toes that next piece of wood, or by the way he obstinately straightens his coat after he fails.

These characterisations take us into the realm of theatre. There is little narrative-arc to speak of, apart from Le Guen removing that coat and then most of his other clothes. But a falling character, as opposed to a mediocre acrobat, creates an emotional investment in his failure and in his success.

That is complemented by Jérôme Hoffman – a mad scientist hairdo sitting at an organ of rods and oscilloscopes. A large piece of foil expanding in a bowl creates a very suspenseful crinkle.  There are a few distorted bars of The Blue Danube, but the melody never quite gets off the ground.

This fatalistic gimmick has contradictory purposes. A musician, traditionally, seeks to create a sustained melody. A tightrope walker falls unintentionally – aspires not to. By pre-empting failure, Hoffman and Le Guen dodge the inherent risk of the entertainer.

As I was leaving the theatre, I heard someone say that the ending was supposed to be more successful than it was. I always want to see a live performance on its best night, whatever that is. For a show about falling, the most interesting night may be the one where the big finale doesn’t really happen.  For a tightrope display, though it may be impressive at times, that is ultimately disappointing.

Fall Fell Fallen was part of the Sydney Festival’s About an Hour program. Its final performance was today. The reviewer attended the performance on Friday, January 22nd.

Photo by Prudence Upton / Sydney Festival