Reviews London TheatreOWE & Fringe Published 13 April 2016

Review: All That Fall at Wilton’s Music Hall

Wilton's Music Hall ⋄ Until 14th May 2016 (at Arts Theatre)

Tim Bano lets the mask slip at a blindfolded production of Beckett.

Tim Bano
Blindfolded production of All That Fall at Wilton's Music Hall.

Blindfolded production of All That Fall at Wilton’s Music Hall.

In an episode of Radio 3’s The Essay, actor Samuel West said “when I’m in the car and I turn on the radio, if I can tell within 3 seconds that it’s a radio drama the radio goes off again.” Radio drama, at its best, builds worlds within one’s mind that did not exist just moments before. At its worst it has a false quality, like the saccharine tang at the back of the mouth that differentiates Canderel from sugar.

All That Fall is indeed radio drama at its best. Beckett’s characters are both distinctly human and slightly unreal, they embrace what audio drama is: a false reality – falser, perhaps, than the realities of a theatre stage because they are devoid of a visual dimension.

Directors have found creative ways to beat Beckett’s stipulations that this play must never be staged. Some, like Trevor Nunn, have used the pretence that the actors are performing a radio drama, standing at mics with scripts in hand. Max Stafford-Clark’s production takes a different tack by having its audience blindfolded while the performers weave between them, enacting in 3D space a drama that no one will see.

Unlike a radio play, the space in which the action takes place – Wilton’s Music Hall – gives a sense of dimension and direction. Even a stereo sound will only give two locations – left ear or right ear – but the interrelation between sounds helps build something complete for the imagination to turn into images.

Not a difficult world to imagine. A path, an old woman, a donkey. A rural Irish landscape, built by rhythm of speech. But it requires an act of will to maintain focus and attention, not to be distracted by the conceit of the thing. Still, the earnest, breathy performances (very occasionally too ripe) make it easy to be sucked into the narrative. The senses become more keenly attuned to non-narrative sounds too. The guy next to me fiddles with his mask a lot, impatient rustles that distract me.

Light leaks in along the bridge of my nose to give a view of shoes. I close my eyes. At the end of a long day, I enter that catatonic state of halfsleep that bleeds consciousness into dream. And Mrs Rooney takes form and figure and face, and smells sit heavy in the air. My neighbour’s deodorant, airborne as he rustles and fidgets, becomes peat. The scents of my day, breath and fabric, become cold, damp air. You can’t prevent imagination. Can’t stop images from finding shape.

And as the narrative builds and flesh grows around these characters’ bones the play reveals itself to be a thing of great beauty. It’s flesh that doesn’t match up to the way these actors actually look. At the curtain call it was almost impossible to tell who had actually played each character.

Except I peeked. For a fraction of a second, I let my mask slip. And I saw a sea of bowed heads and black masks, faces made ghoulish and expressionless by the lack of eyes. In your head you are your own director, designer and creative team. Let your mark slip and that world crumbles. You choose to sustain it or not.

All That Fall is now on at the Arts Theatre until 14th May 2016. Click here for tickets.

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Tim Bano

Tim is a freelance arts writer and theatre critic. He writes regularly for Time Out, The Stage and other publications. He is co-creator of Pursued By A Bear, Exeunt Magazine's theatre podcast.

Review: All That Fall at Wilton’s Music Hall Show Info


Directed by Max Stafford-Clark

Written by Samuel Beckett

Cast includes Bríd Brennan, Tara Flynn, Frank Laverty and Ciaran McIntyre

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