I have an in-built suspicion of young companies who suddenly become darlings of the critics and the theatre-pundits.
Action Hero is one such, and though I enjoyed their previous production, A Western, I couldn’t compute the measure to which it overwhelmed many who saw it.
So I was pleased to find myself engaging far more with Watch Me Fall, which to my mind is a piece with more to say and a more theatrical construct for saying it.
Based around the theme of daredevils, but largely focused on Evel Knievel, it has a traverse set-up with the audience on two sides. We are onlookers at a series of stunts rather than participants, encouraged to whoop and holler from the start. This is what expectant audiences do. We are here to see something spectacular happen. We can see that this will be stunt-lite, given the limits of the space, the ping-pong balls, mini-Coke bottles and mini-bicycle, but still we join in with the unashamed crowd rousing from the tousle-haired James Stenhouse. The well chosen music contributes too.
Referencing daredevils such as Henri la Moth who, aged 71, dived 40ft into only 14 inches of water and Roy Fransen, who dived 60ft into a blazing pool after first setting light to himself, under various pseudonyms (Dunc Danger, Jonny Legend, Dick Cheney) James performs a range of innocent stunts for our pleasure. Assisted by Gemma Paintin in a stars and stripes dress, they pop ping-pong balls from mouth to bucket and play mini golf, set light to the crash helmet, do weight-lifting with big bottles of Coke.
Our discomfort grows as the stunts take a tougher turn. Gemma kicks James around the head with real energy, he waterboards her with Coca-Cola and then he makes the jump off the ramp on the little bike, landing in a broken heap. This final act mirrors the grim end of Knievel’s career in 1975 when he broke many bones and finished up in a coma for months.
Action Hero layer this engaging spectacle with ideas around the attractiveness of the alpha male and the public’s seemingly unending thirst for entertainment at any cost. It doesn’t go particularly deep, but it is thought provoking. I particularly liked the nod to London 2012 and the incongruous sponsorship of sport by Coca-Cola, and the frisson of danger from being so close-up. The whole was made more enjoyable by the presence of a group of young kids opposite me (a breakdance troupe perhaps) who were very keen to get some free pop, keen to chuck balls around, and genuinely pretty terrified when events turned dark. They are the audience that matters. I wonder what star rating they would apply?