Everything about Cascando intrigues you before you arrive. Its title is intriguing first in name: what language is it? And then, in nature: what does an Italian term for a decrease in volume have to do with this French play?
Pan Pan Theatre brings this promenade production of Beckett’s 1962 radio play to the Barbican Centre and its surroundings. The audience walks through the Barbican’s paths wearing headphones over the course of 30 minutes. Going on a walk that’s both guided and soundtracked is soothing after the sense of overwhelm that our daily mixes and numerous lockdown routes can leave us with. The outfits are decided, too: all members of the audience wear a hooded black cloak on the walk, giving passers-by a visual show.
Cascando features three characters: Opener, Music and Voice. As the name suggests, Opener (Daniel Reardon) directs the play to “open” and “close.” Music (by Jimmy Eadie) and Voice (Andrew Bennett) skilfully share the stage, to create the telling of a story that is both suspenseful and rambling, as Voice pushes through his forgetfulness to tell a closing tale.
The Barbican’s scenery adds a colourful dimension to the play, if not a slightly distracting one: at times it is difficult to pay undivided attention to the audio as you walk through the brutally green estate. I wonder how the play would be received if the tour were in the dark, playing a little further with the sensorial experience, but perhaps it would be unnecessarily eerie. Given that the play deals with a forgetful narration of a story, the trees and water of the Barbican contribute to the audience feeling similarly split between a story and a train of thought.
The current restrictions on theatre have typically meant smaller audiences within the same theatre spaces we were all familiar with, but in bringing a promenade production of Samuel Beckett’s work to the stage- or rather, to the walkways- Pan Pan Theatre offers us another way in which theatre could be experienced in this new world. Here, the Barbican morphs to fit the nature of the tale, and designer Aedín Cosgrove and director Gavin Quinn invite us to actively transform the scenery to wherever we instinctively imagine listening to this play.
While a walk around the Barbican is never a bad idea, the play and the setting don’t always equally share the limelight: I would say that that Cascando is a play that needs to be listened to more than once, to fully sit with its lines, perhaps on a self-guided tour. Still, as a refreshingly scenic way to spend an afternoon, Cascando reminds us that there are indeed novel ways to go on a walk, and tempts us to consider the alternatives when we next sit in the stalls.
Cascando was on from 6th-11th July at Barbican. More info here.