With a twinkle in his eye, Peter Polycarpou welcomes us to the antique shop that will provide the backdrop for this show’s whirlwind ride through the songs of the 1920s. His warm stage presence (and cheeky eye contact with the camera) almost makes you forget that you’re not actually at the theatre. We are soon introduced to Sally Ann Triplett, the owner of the antique shop and Polycarpou’s partner in guiding the audience through the forgotten composers of the 1920s. The pair immediately have great chemistry and seem very natural together, cracking jokes throughout the performance. Falling Stars fittingly takes the format of a revue, intersplicing song performances with explanations of the particular song’s history and little skits between the actors.
The set is sparing, with the skeleton of a lampshade and a mirror frame effectively establishing the antique shop setting. Forgive the pun, but the lighting used is really allowed to shine, transforming the stage from a dingy, green-tinged shop to brightly-lit musical stage as the actors switch between commentary and performance.
Falling Stars was put together in just three days, rehearsals having just started when second lockdown was announced. In spite of this, production values are very high. The show is professionally filmed, with unobtrusive camerawork and editing that allows for as close to the theatre experience as online shows can provide.
There are a few deeply touching moments in this show, one being a pause between songs in which Polycarpou mentions the impact of theatre in bringing people together following the Spanish flu epidemic of the 1920s. Watching gave me a rush of gratitude for the many theatre-makers putting their all into making lockdown more bearable for all of us.
Coming into this show with a very limited (read: non-existent) knowledge of 1920s composers, I would have liked to learn more about those mentioned in Falling Stars, especially given that they are the ‘forgotten’ ones of the era. Occasionally, the interludes between songs felt rushed, plunging us immediately into the next number with little idea of the context behind it. Perhaps this is a personal preference, though, as the fun of the show might have been spoiled by long, factual commentaries between songs. It serves as a good introduction, and I’d recommend a Wikipedia deep-dive after this performance if you’re a nerd like me!
This show is the first I’ve seen to be performed socially distanced, and the duo manage this very successfully, without detracting from the fun vibe. Clever choreography and utilisation of camera angles make it easy to forget that they are socially distancing at all, especially during a raunchy Lou Brown number which almost has more impact than it would have if the actors were allowed to touch. Some of the more emotive ballads are enhanced by social distancing too, providing very evocative moments when the two reach out to each other but are unable to quite touch.
Overall, then, Falling Stars is a well-made piece of theatre against all odds. It is fun and full of heart, and Peter Polycarpou and Sally Ann Triplett are a duo I would happily watch for hours.
Directed and musical staging by: Michael Strassen
Musical Direction by: Robert Emery
Production Design by: Jean Grey
Produced by: Thomas Hopkins & Michael Quinn for Ginger Quiff Media
Falling Stars will be available to watch from 22-29 November via Steamed.theatre. It will be performed live on 8 and 9 January 2021. At the time of writing, it is also scheduled to be performed live on 8th and 9th January 2021.