All Falls Down, VAULT Festival

by Laura Kressly

Storytelling – the simple kind where a small group of people sit in the dark and simply share wild and wonderful tales – is an inherent part of being human. In this instance, combining this instinct with improvisation, and audience interaction results in a story following a group of friends trying to find their way out of a plane crash. The audience is the group of friends, and Joe Strickland quietly narrates the set-up. Soon, Strickland introduces a chose-your-own-adventure type of moment that leads to many more. The concept is fun and the audience enthusiastically engages, but the execution raises questions about audience autonomy and the limits of improv.

Like the children’s books, there seems to be a pre-determined story ending. There also seems to be key plot points that are introduced regardless of the audience’s choice. Often people offer ideas in quick succession, so Strickland has to ignore some in favour of others – this allows him the ultimate choice of what ideas to pursue. There seems to be a ‘correct’ pathway, as occasionally someone is asked to remove a brick from the Jenga tower on a small coffee table in the centre of the space – the sole piece of set. But contrary to the title, the tower is standing at the end of the show so it’s not clear what the point of it is or what happens to the narrative if it collapses.

The story seems relatable to the audience/characters – we all met at uni but eventually went our separate ways and gradually lost touch. When our friend Sarah turned 30, she paid for us all to visit her where she lives in Seattle. A couple of days’ partying later, Sarah takes us for a flight since she recently got her pilot’s license, but the next thing we know, we are waking up in the middle of the woods after the plane went down and Sarah is missing. This is reminiscent of the TV show Lost, as well as Mark Ravenhill’s play pool (no water), though with a pronounced sci-fi surprise trope in the middle. This audience fixate on that, much to the clear frustration of others, and largely forget about the original goal of finding Sarah. This dramaturgical dead end causes the story to stagnate, with the ending then needing to be rushed.

Though it was in turn both enjoyable and frustrating, the show/event shows the risks and potential of this kind of work. The intimacy and low-key, back-to-basics approach is lovely, but clarity is needed on the role of the audience.

All Falls Down runs through 28 January.

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