I was a generation too late to experience the ritual of listening to plays regularly on the radio. People use to gather around the “wireless”, siting in rocking chairs, eagerly awaiting the next audio adventure.
Irish theatre company, Pan Pan brings this experience to the Seymour centre with their production of Samuel Beckett’s first radio play All That Fall. In doing so they create a truly unique seventy minute theatre experience.
The audience is invited on stage where sixty quite comfy wooden rocking chairs are placed. The voices of the actors are projected from behind you. If, like me, you are not used to the medium of the radio play, you’ll find yourself taking fifteen to twenty minutes to settle into the experience. However as you gently rock away you find yourself utterly intrigued by this strange dislocating world.
You soon notice the absence of sound effects apart from noises associated with travel such as, the car engine or the knocking of Mrs Rooney’s (Aine Ni Mhuiri) walking stick as she labours wearily along. The knocking provides a slow Hip-Hop beat (unintentional of course, there was no hip-hop in Beckett’s day) for her to talk over. Other noteworthy sounds are the cries of cows, sheep and donkeys which are voiced by the actors for absurd comic effect.
As with Becketts’ famous, Waiting For Godot, there is no clear time and place in this play. Mrs Rooney plods along, the centre of her own existential road movie, complaining of old age and searching for a train. The voices of some of the people she meets are treated heavily with reverb with to make them appear distant and disconnected from her. Perhaps, she and her husband Mr Rooney (Andrew Bennett) are already dead, or may as well be from their point of view.
The main themes are pain, alienation and death so it is no surprise to learn that Beckett suffered a bought of depression, while writing All That Falls. He wrote it in few drafts, cancelling most of his appointments with others during the time of writing. After being approached by the BBC to write a radio play, his initial ideas were for the gruesome sounds of cartwheels, dragging of feet and puffing and panting. It is interesting that sound provided the initial stimulus even though its use in the finished work is minimal. Although there have been full stage productions of All that Fall, Beckett remained opposed to these, believing his radio plays were for voices not bodies and that his radio works were only successful if coming out of the darkness, the latter being something that is strongly emphasised in this production.
Your eyes are not totally redundant in the experience, although it is a good idea to close them at times to get immersed in the play. Light globes hang down from the ceiling like stars in the night sky. There is a wall of bright light in front of the audience which is similar to the lighting set up the movement piece Am I which opened at the Opera House last week. Could this style of lighting by a trend in the 2014 Sydney Festival?
As the lights gradually came up, the audience was bewildered. With no actors to take their final bows, no one knew whether to clap or just walk off stage. This was the perfect ending to this strange yet most intriguing show.
Pan Pan Theatre presents
All That Fall
Venue: Everest Theatre | Seymour Centre, Chippendale NSW
Dates: 13, 14 & 16-19 January 2014
Tickets: $49 – $44
Part of the 2014 Sydney Festival
Venue: Powerhouse Theatre
Dates: 11 – 16 Feb 2014
Tickets: $45 – $40
Part of the World Theatre Festival