Royal Lyceum Theatre
It may last no longer than your average TV sit-com, but Samuel Beckett's close-up miniature remains as remarkable in Atom Egoyan's production for Dublin's Gate Theatre as it did when first broadcast on the small screen back in 1966.
Michael Gambon's old man stands alone in his bedroom, methodically drawing the curtains across windows and doors, as if cocooning himself from the world outside. Then, sitting on the bed, his face projected on to the gauze curtain that frames the stage, the voices start. Or rather, just the one, that of a disembodied woman from his past who calmly torments him with prodding little litanies of mistreatment of other women that has led to his solitary state. As the words, dreamily intoned by Penelope Wilton, sink in, their full effect looms large on Gambon's face, heavy-lidded, moist-eyed and haunted by regret, self-loathing and lovelessness.
Egoyan's cinematic approach lends the play all the warts-and-all internal ennui so prevalent in his early film-work. To see Gambon so emotionally exposed as his hangdog features react to Wilton's monologue is a beguilingly troubling insight into the mind of a man alone.
When Samuel Beckett's second radio play was aired in 1959, notions of conceptual art and installations were in their relative infancy. Yet, as Pan Pan Theatre's sonic and visual interpretation makes clear, this is exactly what Beckett was doing in a work which gets inside a man's mind. Onstage, strings of little speakers hang down, surrounding a shrouded structure which looks not unlike a giant bird-cage after dark. Once unveiled, this is revealed as a giant skull, from inside which two actors rake over the ashes of one man's past.
As a piano overture melds into the sounds of the sea and the dense interior monologue which emerges from it, Gavin Quinn's production presents theatre as art installation. At its centre is Andrew Clancy's skull sculpture, across which Aedin Cosgrove's complex lighting patterns rise and fall, offering glimpses of actors Andrew Bennett and Aine Ni Mhuiri inside the skull.
As Bennett's Henry recounts the death of his father, a thumbnail portrait of a man who literally lives inside his own head tumbles out in a rush of words that suggests that Beckett's early brushes with sound art might just have found their time.
All That Fall
On the face of it, Samuel Beckett's 1957 radio play is the most straightforward of all his works.
Over the course of 75 minutes we follow an old woman's journey to the railway station to meet her husband off what turns out to be a delayed train. On his belated arrival, we follow their journey home, eventually discovering the reason for the delay.
In Pan Pan's hand, however, such a simple yarn becomes a full-on immersive experience, with the audience sitting on rocking chairs in a dimly-lit room resembling a chill-out zone opposite a wall of floodlights. With no actors in sight, a recording of the play is broadcast through surround-sound speakers, giving every nuanced exchange and train rattle a thundering weight.
The play itself, with Aine Ni Mhuiri leading a cast of 10 as old Mrs Rooney, is a darkly comic affair, rich in pathos and deadly one-liners.
Gavin Quinn's high-concept production, with set and lighting by Aedin Cosgrove and sound design by Jimmy Eadie, transforms Beckett's words into a piece of total theatre that becomes a rich and unyielding feast for the senses.