The soft dappling of sunlight through leafy branches as a pair of birds peck and preen in their nest overhead. A dusty country path and the gentle dance of the grass caught unaware by a sudden breeze. A roaring steam engine thundering headlong into an otherwise sleepy town. Out of Joint’s fantastic production of All That Fall brings each of these scenes and events to life with staggering clarity despite using no lighting, costume or indeed scenery. The audience is blindfolded throughout, which is initially met with uncomfortable shuffling and muttering but very quickly opens a gateway to auditory opulence.
One of Samuel Beckett’s curiously underperformed pieces, All That Fall was originally written for radio and uses names and places taken from his own childhood experiences. Mrs Rooney, an old and eternally suffering woman, sets out to fetch her husband from the train station as he returns from work on his birthday. En route, she meets with various neighbours and fellow churchgoers who offer her both emotional and physical support to aid her journey. However the train has been delayed by an unknown incident and upon collection and the journey home, Mr Rooney is evasive and rebuffs his wife’s harmless albeit prying questions. His unwillingness to divulge the details does not sit will with Mrs Rooney and it is not until the final moments of their stroll where we learn the horrific cause of Mr Rooney’s distraction and Mrs Rooney’s deep rooted misery.
All That Fall has a curious ability to speak in a quintessentially human way. Despite the rather lacklustre plot line which is, at best, skeletal, the themes of self doubt, insecurity and general nosiness strike a chord within each member of the audience. This is sensational storytelling in its purest form. Bríd Brennan as the stout and lugubrious Mrs Rooney, seems to clamber out from the very ground itself to unleash her suffering on the world. She scoops and claws each word from her gut with a tireless, visceral energy and her booming voice heaves this tale of the human condition and sends it sailing about the auditorium. She is quite simply intoxicating. Brennan’s ability to connect emotion, history and environment transcends the audience’s blindness, treating us to a beautiful visual tapestry so clear and vivid that before long we forget we aren’t ‘watching’ a play at all. Indeed the entire cast work well together using vocal nuance and audible movement to clearly distinguish each of the supporting characters. The actors’ walkways intersect the audience which allows us to visualise every scene in 360 degrees and imagine the setting and appearances any way we wish.
Beckett’s All That Fall is an exemplary way for the modern audience to connect with the human voice. By doing away with the often distracting set and costume of conventional theatre, the emotion and characterisations become paramount. Funny, stirring and ultimately unnerving, this piece comes as a refreshing change to the West End and remains loyal to Beckett’s original intentions.
Reviewed by Alex Foott
Photo: Richard Davenport
All That Fall plays at the Arts Theatre until 14 May 2016