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Theatre review Don't get old

James Fritz's play is a chilling warning of what lies in store for an ageing population, says KATHERINE M GRAHAM

The Fall
Southwark Playhouse, London

AT THE heart of James Fritz’s play is an economy that can only see the elderly as capital and, through three thematically connected sequences in The Fall,  he  conjures the future and the fate of an ageing population.

Two teenagers looking for somewhere to have sex find an old man who might have had a fall — or who might be trying to end it all — and a couple’s entire life flashes before our eyes with marriage, children and an ageing mother taking their toll as they struggle to make ends meet.

In the most compelling sequence, four elderly people share a room in a futuristic old people’s home. In theory, their every need is met by Petra, a kind of low-rent Alexa,  but Petra doesn’t always seem to be connected.

The four find different kinds of comfort in each other and their optimism. But it’s never quite enough and so the “other option” — a kind of state-sanctioned euthanasia — becomes increasingly tempting. After all, their families get financial compensation.

Directed by Matt Harrison, Fritz’s depressing story of ageing is played out by members of the National Youth Theatre (pictured) and there’s no attempt here to “play old.” Rather, we’re encouraged to consider the implications such thematic and political debates have on young people. The realities they play out here are the realities they’ll eventually live through.

In an impressive company, Troy Richards and Sophie Couch bring a remarkable emotional maturity to a complex relationship, Josie Charles and Madeline Charlemagne are beguiling as two old ladies who find a surprising comfort in each other and Jamie Ankrah offers a thoughtful depth to an angry and betrayed old man.

While the futures depicted might be depressing, the upside is that the talent that the National Youth Theatre nurtures and supports is formidable.

Runs until May 19, box office: southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

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