I have never experienced anything quite like the immersive Pan Pan Theatre’s production of Samuel Beckett’s 1957 radio-play, All That Fall. Its director Gavin McQuinn and designer Aedín Cosgrove have created an arena of absence in the Barbican’s Pit Theatre. The absence of a stage or a cast whom we typically expect to bring the script to life is immediately noticeable. Instead, we face a colossal wall decorated with twelve bright lights in a horizontal row. Audience members swing gently to and fro on wooden rocking chairs whilst the sonic soundscape of the rural Irish community in All That Fall fizzles into the room. On the whole, we listen to the play in utter darkness. Occasionally dimmed golden lights illuminate the room before winking back off again. McQuinn and Cosgrove’s experimentation with performance and theatrical form is fascinating and wholly successful.
So far, the Barbican’s International Beckett Season has delivered enthralling theatrical productions. Its intense daily schedule offers the possibility of catching three different productions over the course of a day. If such a thought leaves you stuffing your pockets with Paracetamol to guard against some sort of existentialist migraine, then you’d be forgiven. Perhaps. However, at just over one hour long, this drama encapsulates the power of the playwright. It is a must-see for those who are intrigued, and for die-hard Beckett fans alike. Mrs. Rooney (voiced by Áine Ní Mhuirí) is a fat old lady who wanders down towards the train station to collect her husband Dan, a blind old man. On her journey she encounters several characters and the drama showcases Beckett’s bawdiness, rife with sexual innuendos. Once Dan’s delayed train finally arrives, the old married couple struggle homewards ‘with dragging feet’ and their antagonistic discourse allows for a dramatic exploration of life’s struggles, pains and inherent tragedies. Andrew Bennett’s stellar performance voicing the part of Dan stands out amongst the series of voices which seep through the speakers into the Pit Theatre. The couple provide an interesting comparison to Vladimir and Estragon of Waiting for Godot. Gradually, the drama unfolds and cartwheels suggestively towards a ‘whodunit’ plot.
Most crucially, All That Fall is a reminder of the comical aspect of Beckett’s work, a paramount feature of all of his drama which is so often overlooked by critics. Aside from the qualities of the text, it is the way it is presented which renders Pan Pan’s production so successful. Initially disorientating, the enveloping darkness sways our attentions towards words, silence and fundamentally, the musicality of life and the speech which litters it. The drama closes bereft of denouement, before we are blinded by the sudden illumination of the twelve lights on the facing wall. Some applauded, some stayed still, unsure as to whether the drama had finished. After a minute or two we all rose from our seats, filtered towards the exits, thanked the workers on the doors and communally muttered our appreciation of a fascinating piece of theatre.