An empty room full of boxes, an absent mother and two warring sisters. ‘The Backward Fall’ is billed as a play about Alzheimer’s, but it’s less about the mother who suffers from the condition and more about the effect it has on her daughters.
The sisters’ relationship reflects the situation that many siblings face when an ageing parent falls ill; Lily stays close to home and takes responsibility for the everyday care of her mother, while Clara visits from time to time and still manages to remain the favourite in the eyes of her parents.
It’s this rivalry that forms the majority of the play. With their mother, Etta, having taken up residence in a care home, Lily and Clara are left to pack up the family home, and it triggers an endless round of arguments between the two.
The cast use the action of dipping into cardboard boxes to dredge up old memories, but they also use the act of storytelling to morph into their absent mother. These are the only glimpses we have of the person who claims all their love and yet causes so much of their anguish, and it is fitting that the actor playing the care-giving daughter, Lily, also plays the part of the mother, and she does so with fine sensitivity.
The play doesn’t reach dark depths, but its serious subject matter is lightened by moments of comedy. The strained relationship between demanding Clara and her long-suffering partner, Alexander, becomes comical when they argue over biscuits and dieting, while there’s some slapstick juggling as the sisters divvy up their childhood VHS collection.
Rochelle Thomas has a chance to really shine in this production, being able to strut about as the spoilt child, Clara, but she also shows flashes of tenderness towards the under-appreciated Lily. The structure of the whole piece seems a little wayward at times, as though the original piece devised for The Courtyard back in January has developed and moved away from its initial focus i.e. Etta’s struggle with Alzheimer’s. Overall, though, the piece is well acted and the Camden Fringe has given this upcoming company a chance to really show their potential.