Deep shadows and strangely shaped blocks of low light set the mood for The Fallen Mystery, an absorbing hour-long work choreographed by Zara Killeen-Chance in collaboration with the performers. She has also designed the lighting, creating a dimly lit space for innumerable encounters between a series of highly stylized, recognizably noirish characters presented by a trio of loners dressed in trench coats — two independent dames (Georgie Goater and Lisa Greenfield) who embody an array of femmes fatales, and a well-dressed bloke on the prowl (Paul Young) who ranges from vigilante man to stoic to cop on the make .
There’s no narrative as such, just a steadily morphing sequence of interactions which involve individuals lurking warily in the shadows with all senses alert, pacing watchfully, crossing paths or meeting with one another, exchanging silent words, drawing a gun, shooting and being shot, dropping dead, and coming back to life to re-enter the cycle at a new point. There are multiple entrances and exits, often making use of diagonal pathways, and floor work involving resting on one hip while being dragged by someone else. Sequences overlap at times, and there’s enough repetition and variation to imply the cinematic flashback so typical of film noir.
The pace is deliberately slow and steady, drawn out by extended freeze-frame pauses which fragment the action to the point where it feels as if you’re riffling through the pages of a graphic anthology of noir short stories. The pace gives events an edge of tension, heightened by the emotionally weighted glances so deliberately emphasized by the performers, mostly directed at the a audience rather than to one another. There’s a sense of refinement here, of things being pared back to essentials and then polished to perfection.
The carefully selected retro clothing suggests expensive high fashion of the 40 and 50s, especially that worn by stage and film stars of the era, and carries with it a strong sense of autonomy and self-reliance – a notion that these people can do whatever they put their minds to and are not to be messed about. Young’s trench coat over collar and tie, classy trousers, and brown brogues suggest Humphrey Bogart, and though Young only mimes the ever-present cigarette, he’s still very much the laconic hard-boiled PI. White shirted-Greenfield hides her face and carefully curled hair behind the brim of a white hat worthy of Jane Greer, becoming a woman of mystery; later in her trench coat she walks the streets, and quick to seize the advantage in an encounter going wrong, she cold-heartedly levels her gun at Young and drops him with one shot. Goater strips off her trench coat to reveal a slinky blue shimmering silk dress and performs a frenzied night club solo reminiscent of Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon (minus Fred Astaire), but at other times as she paces about in her coat she looks very much like Rita Hayworth, and in a street grapple with Young she shows her self-defence moves to great advantage.
Atmospheric music is provided live by Hermione Johnston variously playing an out-of-tune piano, grungy electronic keyboard, rusty violin, prepared piano strings, and loops of one kind or another. While not exactly noirish, her sounds do add to the feeling of things being not quite as they appear, giving an edge that keeps your ear attentive while your eyes puzzle out what’s happening on stage.
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