First staged in Dublin in 2011, Pan Pan Theatre’s re-conceptualising of Samuel Beckett’s 1956 radio play has since toured to acclaim all over the world.
The Abbey’s decision to revive the show on the national stage, then, is a welcome acknowledgement of one of the country’s finest theatre companies. Pan Pan have long been at the vanguard of experimental practice here in Ireland. All the same, while it boasts an undeniable charm, All That Fall remains a frustrating piece.
Part pilgrim’s progress, part ghost story, part existential psychodrama, part lewd, degenerate comedy, Beckett’s play is a saga of disembodied voices that centres on the arduous journey of the elderly and impaired Maddie Rooney to meet her husband off the train.
Along the road she encounters all manner of human life, prompting verbal exchanges that are quite hilarious — this is Beckett at his very wickedest. Significantly, Beckett very much ingrains the experience of radio listening into the form of the play itself, such that Maddie Rooney’s plight — her sense of “lingering dissolution” — should come to mimic the experience of the lone radio listener.
While intriguing, what Pan Pan do with the play works better as a concept than as an experience. Aedín Cosgrove’s set design — which places 60 or so empty rocking chairs on the stage with hordes of dangling light bulbs above them — is visually stunning. But once the audience is seated in the chairs and the lights dim and the recording of the play begins, the novelty of the set-up wears off and the show feels like what it is in the finish — an exercise. The exercise certainly provokes in the audience member a sense of embodiment and of vague waiting — all qualities that resonate well with Beckett’s text. But the effect feels a little tame and cosy, just the same.
Nonetheless, between Beckett’s brilliantly dark comedy and the wonderful vocal performances of the actors, there is still plenty to relish here.
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