Review: They Say He Fell (Pandemic Theatre)

Photo left to right: Maxine Heppner, Christopher Stanton, Tom Arthur-Davis, Virgilia Griffiths, and Stephen Bush in They Say He Fell. Photo Credit: John Lauener

Pandemic Theatre presents They Say He Fell playing at the Passe Muraille in Toronto

Pandemic Theatre’s They Say He Fell, a play based on Nir Bareket’s memories of early post-colonial 1940s Palestine — playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace — made for a lovely discussion over half-priced burgers at The Epicure Cafe (courtesy of the coupon on TPM ticket stubs).

While quickly skimming through the haunting and beautiful photos in the complimentary book My Eyes Have Seen – which my companion, Betsy, and I both received at the box office – we realized something: neither of us could think of one negative thing about this show.

I mentioned in my previous review that I do a lot of reading and activism around white supremacy and anti-racism. This also includes learning about colonization and occupation – Palestinian liberation being a cause I’ve spent over seven years (and counting) supporting. I feel strongly that Palestinian (and all colonized Indigenous peoples’) stories need to be heard — and also that they’re often drowned out by endless stories illuminating their colonizers’ humanity.

As such, I was prepared to hate this show, to seethe through it, to bristle at old, racist stereotypes and hasbara. Much to my delight, the opposite happened.

Through brilliant — and at times powerful — narration, extremely clever stage work, and creative use of film and photography, this cynical social justice killjoy (me) was very quickly softened and touched (and rendered weepy).

Betsy mentioned, and I agreed: narration isn’t usually our cup of tea. In this performance it worked beautifully. It was essential — and woven in — to the storytelling, and helped manifest crescendos of suspense, fear, and tragedy.

I found the story and the way it showcased the innocence, fear, and naiveté of the people and the time very powerful. The generous, physical, and talented cast, which included several incarnations of a surprisingly expressive, faceless doll (the young narrator), helped bring it all to life.

What most impressed me were the special effects. Only a few basic items were used: a huge white sheet, a few lights, some trunks, clotheslines, paper dolls, miniature trucks, a video camera, and of course stage lighting and sound.

With these basics the cast managed to transform the small space into another time and place. I can only imagine the rehearsal schedule needed to produce this wonder of timing and stage wizardry.

To me, this was a nuanced, touching, sad, but ultimately satisfying performance that filled me with a wide range of emotions and gave me the sense of closure I crave. As Betsy said: “it doesn’t clobber you over the head with the story”. It also felt very accessible and humble to me.

If I could make one small request, it might be some clarification (even in the programme) about why the young narrator is represented as a doll — at times on the clothesline — though tossing around theories post-show was fun.

If story-driven performances with depth, feeling, and creative delivery are your cup of tea, you may enjoy They Say He Fell. I’ve seen more theatre this year than in any other year of my life, and this was one of my favourites.


    • They Say He Fell is playing until October 18, 2015 at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave.)
    • Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30pm, with additional matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm
    • Ticket prices range from $25-$30, with PWYC matinees, and are available online. Tickets may be available at the door 2 hours before the show starts. To find out more information, please call 416.504.7529
    • Note: there is no intermission or washroom in the Backspace area. Show run time is 80 minutes.

Photo of Maxine Heppner, Christopher Stanton, Tom Arthur Davis, Virgilia Griffiths, and Stephen Bush by John Lauener