Faced with a dark roomful of rocking chairs, I must admit, I was apprehensive. All too often are intimate performances tainted by the fear of social awkwardness. However, soon this feeling subsided as the installation concept of Gavin Quinn brought Beckett's 1957 radio play All That Fall to the stage, whilst preserving its authenticity - Beckett having declared, "to act it is to kill it." So, there was no acting; just voices (PanPan Theatre) and atmospheric lighting.
The narrative was simple: an old woman travels to the train station to meet her blind husband and accompanies him home. Yet, Beckett does not attempt to hide his heavy meaning - the driving force of this drama. The journey along the road is clearly a metaphor for the journey of life, hinting at its futility. This is intensified by rhythmical footsteps and breaths which echo a pulse or life-support machine, and the struggle of survival. Mrs Rooney is tragically tormented by hopelessness and childlessness - suggestions of which run throughout by use of "lateness" and strong innuendoes.
Bennett (Rooney) gave the most believable portrayal, which is truly to his merit, as the consequence of such rich dialogue is that it sounds unrealistic. The stylised lighting enhanced the surreal element of the play and appreciation of its symbolic dimensions.
It is, indeed, a very bleak, almost existential, piece. Nevertheless, it was a deliciously jarring and innovative production, as we sat alone together in "the shadow of the waiting room" - a cavity prior to death.
From the moment you first are faced with a skull grinning at you from the cushion on your seat to the last and least forgiving streams of light and sounds of a ruthless storm at the conclusion of the play, your surroundings certainly help the play to leave it's unrelenting message of death firmly impressed in the minds of the audience. Samuel Beckett's All That Fall certainly comes alive in the most obscure fashion in Pan Pan Theatre's production directed by Gavin Quinn through its lights and sound ensemble.
Our senses are made constantly alert as we make the long journey with Mrs Maddy Rooney (Aine Ni Mhuiri) to pick her husband up from the train station and the audience gain a sense of omnipresence as they experience the most intimate and uneasy conversations that she has on her way and her misery and unfulfilled desire for love and for a lost child is exposed to the audience. In the form of her blind, black-hearted husband Dan Rooney (Andrew Bennett) the audience is shown the root of her despair and the deadly, cynical messages in the play.
Through this elderly and wretched couple Beckett encapsulates every fear of old age and death on a deeper level all with a wicked sense of humour underlying. The telling of the death of a child through another child makes for a poignant final encounter that leaves the audience with a haunting version of events implanted in the mind of the listener.
Beckett's 1957 radio play All That Fall centres round Mrs Rooney, a woman in her seventies, as she walks to meet her husband Dan at the station, and her interactions with the people she meets along the way - a mundane errand transformed by Beckett into a multifaceted odyssey. This production, by Pan Pan Theatre, overcame the limitations imposed by the radio format through expertly minimalistic use of sound and lighting. The suspended orange light bulbs overhead and grid-like pattern of lights that were the production's only visuals continually dimmed and brightened in reflection of what the characters said; their disembodied voices echoing with sometimes eerie, sometimes humorous effect.
Mrs Rooney is a character that invokes both our pity and our fascination; an affection starved housewife, both absurd and profound, and teetering on the brink of breakdown; she expresses herself in archaic, stiltedly poetic word choice that makes her sound as though she is "struggling with a dead language," while her husband is a pedantic invalid with a dark sense of humour.
Comedy and tragedy are juxtaposed; at one point, Mrs Rooney and her husband rock with raucous laughter; a few moments later, their walk is interrupted by the news of a child's death under the wheels of the train, echoing the loss of Mrs Rooney's own daughter, Minnie, years earlier. Even despite these flecks of humanity, the plays overwhelming impression was that of great, baffling abstractionism; but even if not understood, it definitely provoked a strange but powerful response unlike anything else.
With scattered wooden rocking chairs, hanging light bulbs and a 'stage' of orange lights, Pan Pan's performance of Samuel Becketts All That Fall is both atmospheric and unusual. This setting of the radio play, directed by Gavin Quinn, allows much curiosity and anticipation to build in the audience, until the lights go out and Mrs Rooney is introduced, on her way to the train station to meet her blind husband.
Old Mrs Rooney encounters several people on her way, who are acted by not only the voices but by the ever changing lighting. The train is delayed under circumstances that involve a dead child and potentially Mrs Rooney's husband.
The play comes across as humorous in many parts with animal noises voiced by people and the grumbles and complaints of Mrs Rooney, yet at the same time there is a darkness and sadness to the play. This comes across in Áine Ní Mhuirí portrayal of Mrs Rooney who despite her claims of annoyance at other villagers seems to be a lonely character, displayed in both her solitary reflection and with her interaction with other people.
Death and suffering seem to be constant themes in All That Fall, and they never seem to be far from Mrs Rooney's mind. Yet the dramatic and expressive lights, the sometimes deafening sound effects and the intriguing portrayal of Mrs Rooney's personality prevents the play from becoming morbid or dull and creates a involving and unconventional performance.
As a writer, of mainly the 1950's, Beckett portrays his most raw and true, Irish self in this piece. Although originally a radio play, broadcast first by the BBC in 1957, All That Fall adapts suitably to the modern day stage of the Edinburgh Festival. The stage used for this piece is extremely unconventional in that it is not actually a stage at all, but rather a straight black wall which holds dozens of football shaped lights. The seating is also very distorting, as one would need to be careful as to not collide their skull with a bulb of one of the many low hanging lights.
The story follows an old Irish woman named Maddy Rooney, taking an unfamiliar journey to the train station to meet with her blind husband whom will be arriving on the last train home. We are introduced to various characters along the course of her journey such as a carter, a racecourse clerk, a businessman and an unwed, strange young woman. As she finally arrives at the station, we learn that the train she is waiting on is delayed, which is odd as, it seems, they usually run like clockwork.
However, when it does finally arrive and we find out that what caused the delay, was the death of a young child who had fallen from the train carriage and killed by the wheels, this may have been caused by Mr Rooney. What makes this particular Beckett play so captivating, is it's constant change of mood going from humorous, even hilarious in parts, to a deeply dark affair.