Patrick Ryan, Rex Ryan and Elaine O'Dwyer in Sky Falls. Image uncredited.
Three wrongs make for a right in Neil Flynn's stunning courtroom drama, Sky Falls. What's wrong being three jury members breaking all the rules on the night before the verdict of a high profile murder case. What's right being an invigorating and challenging script that explores prejudice and bias in a court of law. Yet it goes partially awry due to Flynn the director nearly scuppering Flynn the writer's taut and thought provoking script, courtesy of some compositionally poor staging that leaves parts of the audience immensely frustrated.
Like a budget version of Twelve Angry Men, with an Oleanna twist tossed in for good measure, Sky Falls portrays three lifelike people called up for jury duty. All showing little or no respect for legal protocols. Rex Ryan's copyright editor and recent divorcee, looking for custody of his son, is caught up in an affair with fellow juror Elaine O'Dwyer's school teacher. Meanwhile, Patrick Ryan's concerned father calls round to make sure no one is being unduly influenced in their decision. Yet when personal issues and public responsibility collide, no turn, good or bad, goes unpunished. One thing's for sure, any confidence in justice based on a trial by a jury of your peers is quickly dispensed with.
Rex Ryan, Elaine O'Dwyer and Patrick Ryan, in Sky Falls. Image uncredited.
Less a court of justice so much as a court of public opinion, in Flynn's searing interrogation personal agendas can decide innocence or guilt with questionable reference to the actual crime. Suggesting maybe judicial process isn't up to the task. Maybe when the killer is a man, the victim a woman, circumstantial evidence is enough for your subjective feelings to decide whether he was responsible or not. For the fact is, facts are not enough. Reasonable doubt is something you can have reasonable doubts about. You can know he did it, or didn't do it, believe the burden of proof has been met of fallen short of, all on the basis of what your gut is telling you.
With the rollercoaster intensity of Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, Sky Falls kicks off at top speed and often loops back over itself. It's pace, tension and emotional intensity requiring top drawer performers, which it has. Except Flynn's decision to play in a poorly considered traverse, with audience situated each side of the playing area, dilutes much of the production's potency. It's not just the pain inducing, Gestapo lights that blind you from seeing what's happening depending where you're seated. It's that you can be left watching a performers back for prolonged periods when it's their expression you need to see. Something Elaine O'Dwyer and Patrick Ryan resign themselves to, delivering successfully brilliant performances which only pockets of the room fully witness. Rex Ryan, knowing his audience are losing out, tries to compensate. Head turning like a deranged pigeon, Ryan endlessly cheats out, trying to ensure the audience are experiencing a play instead of an overheard conversation. Looking more actor than character, rushing through phone calls and moments of histrionic overload because he's not able to submerge himself completely knowing sections of the audience are losing out.
This urgently needs to be addressed. Rex Ryan is a terrific actor, but he looks like he's acting with his hands tied behind his back. That final touch, the ethereal magic than brings it all together is hovering just behind the glass. Flynn might be a terrific writer, but as a director he shows poor awareness of movement or composition. Sky Falls is a smart, intelligent play landing killer punches. It has a powerhouse cast. Resolve its directorial issues and you might well have a truly remarkable piece of theatre. Everyone, especially Flynn, deserves it.
Sky Falls by Neil Flynn, presented by Glass Mask Theatre, runs at Glass Mask Theatre until November 12.
For more information visit Glass Mask Theatre