Review: All That Fall Could Herald A Brave New Era For Radio
It’s been 60 years since the BBC first commissioned avant-garde novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett to produce a radio play for the Third Programme. After decades of insistence from Beckett’s estate that the play should ‘remain where it belongs’, theatre company Out of Joint has been given permission to reinvent the play as a live sonic experience at London’s historic Wilton’s Music Hall.
There are so few times in the modern age that we are given sanctuary from the outside world, to shut everything out and dedicate an hour to using just a single sense. At the insistence of Director Max Stafford-Clark, visitors to this imaginative production are issued compulsory eye masks in order for the listener to conjure up their own visuals, ensuring that the play is received exactly as it was intended.
Inspired by his native Foxrock, the story follows the chance encounters of the unmistakably Irish Maddy Rooney (played by Tony award-winning Bríd Brennan) as she trudges along a country road to the station, to surprise her blind husband on his birthday. The journey is peppered with colourful characters yet beset with issues; a dung cart pulled by a horse reluctant to move; Mr Tyler on his bicycle, bearing his own grave news and Mr Slocum, an old admirer, who creates more than an awkward situation when he insists on giving her a lift in his limousine.
The sense of impending tragedy begins to gather pace as she nears the station. The train arrives unusually late and as the crowds close-in, the breathy sounds of the countryside are soon replaced by the frantic sounds of its arrival, before Mrs Rooney begins the desperate search for her husband and becomes fixated upon the mystery behind his delay.
Although famed for his tragicomic style, some of Beckett’s intended gloom feels lost in the broadcast space of the music hall, in spite of the atmospheric setting. In order for the actors to move around freely, bringing characters into the audience, the house lights have to remain up, altering the sense of intimacy despite our impaired vision.
The most unusual aspect of the delivery, however, lays in the effect of surround sound. Dialogue projected from all corners of the room is at times as confusing as it is immersive. Although exciting to be caught in an exchange of words between Mr and Mrs Rooney, it feels strange for other characters to suddenly appear further away, when the story hasn’t dictated their move. It leaves us yearning for the simplicity of the traditional transfer of sound from left to right speaker on the radio.
It’s been said that Samuel Beckett was no fan of mixing media, and one could argue that this combination of the two lacks real punch in either arena. However, by blurring the lines between immersive theatre and interactive radio, All That Fall does at least celebrate their joint ability to bring people together for a shared experience, allowing us the freedom to respond both collectively and individually.
In a year which has already seen record levels of radio listening and the launch of a dozen new stations, it's clear that Britain’s love affair with radio looks set to continue. All That Fall could certainly be applauded not just for introducing newcomers to lesser known areas of Beckett’s work, but for bringing radio drama to a brand new public, heralding a brave new era for what will always remain the ultimate theatre of the mind.
All That Fall is at Wilton’s Music Hall, Graces Alley E1 8JB until 9 April 2016. Tickets £25/£15. Recommended age 14+. Londonist attended on a complimentary press ticket.
Last Updated 27 March 2016