‘a nice gruesome idea full of cartwheels and dragging of feet and puffing and panting which may or may not lead to something’
So wrote playwright Samuel Beckett of his third radio play All That Fall. Rarely are audiences handed a blindfold on the way in to the theatre but it happens at this production. Currently playing at the Wilton’s Music Hall, it’s worth arriving early to drink in the atmosphere of this restored beauty of a theatre for the sake of the venue itself but also for the layout of the performance space.
Director Max Stafford-Clark has been necessarily inventive in the staging of a play that Beckett was adamant should be heard and not seen – hence the blindfolds. Beckett, having been asked to write a play specifically for radio, produced a script meant to ‘leave the imagination of the listener essentially free to conjure up this or her own visual and auditory world.’ And there is magic in that.
Dyfan Jones is the sound designer on this production and he has created a very effective surround sound experience that is all the more heightened not only by the lack of vision but also by the clever staging of Stafford-Clark. The audience seating is set in what looks to be a random configuration. After all, why look at the stage when you won’t be seeing anything anyway?
However there is nothing random in the seating at all as the pathway that meanders through the audience is intrinsic to the narrative. The play is set in an Irish country town and Mrs Rooney, superbly played by Brid Brennan, is walking into town to collect her husband from the train home from work. As said in Beckett’s quote above…’which may or may not lead to something.’ That’s the narrative in a nutshell. She picks him up and they walk home. There is a mystery at the end of the play and like the visuals, the audience is left to provide a resolution of their own devices.
Some may find this lack of a finite conclusion to be unsatisfactory but it is rather apt for a play in which there is little in the way of typical plot development. The joy of this play sits rather with the opportunity to enjoy the chance encounters of Mrs Rooney with her neighbours.
Brennan commandeers the greater part of the play with a voice and presence that is strong and rich. It is easy to imagine Mrs Rooney as the strong, mature country woman rather gone to seed and struggling to carry herself down the road. The scene in which she climbs, or rather is pushed into a car by well-to-do Mr Slocum (Ciaran McIntyre) is a delight of comic timing by McIntyre and Brennan. The audience obviously succeeded in imagining the visual slapstick judging by the laughter.
Frank Laverty plays the dung cart driver, Christie, as well as Mr Barrell, with vocal charm; Tara Flynn doubles also and is just as convincing as the charming Miss Fitt as she is as the young boy, Jerry. Killian Burke provides the voice of Tommy the porter who has the unenviable job of extricating Mrs Rooney from the car.
The final cast member is Gary Lilburn who also plays two roles. The first is Mr Tyler who chats with Mrs Rooney on her way into to the station but it is in his second role as Mr Rooney that Lilburn has more time to create a curmudgeonly character.
All That Fall is an entertaining piece. The use of language is rich and the characters are finely crafted within their framework and the narrative. The cast perform with skill and the production paints a vivid story that is enriched rather than hampered by the absence of sight.