Out of Joint and the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival brought one of the most neglected of Beckett’s plays – All That Fall – to the Bristol Old Vic. First performed in 1957, this one-act radio drama, specially commissioned Beckett by the BBC, was highly praised and yet didn’t get the attention it deserves over the years. The reason for this was partly Beckett’s harsh aversion to adapting it for the stage and screen, rejecting the likes of Ingmar Bergman and Alan Schneider, insisting that the play was written only for the ears.
Director Max Stafford-Clark found a way to suit Beckett’s wishes, by organizing a ‘staging’ of the play in imposed darkness, by blindfolding the audience. What’s different about this experience vis-à-vis listening to the radio in the warmth of your home is not only the communal aura, but also the immediateness of it all, with the actors passing through and around the audience – sometimes even leaning right next to them. One is not a ‘spectator’ nor a ‘listener’; more of an ‘eavesdropper’ or a hidden character.
The play itself is a story about hesitant journeys, an elderly woman’s walk to a country station to meet her husband on his birthday. On the way, she meets numerous people that mostly hinder her arrival to the final destination. She does arrive nevertheless, and the story then follows the progress of their journey home and the doomed events that happen.
Maddy Rooney, the central character, is one of Beckett’s extraordinary creations: funny Irish septuagenarian, self-important, indulgent and insolent in her ways. Occasionally, she reminds one of the legendary Winnie character in Happy Days.
Inspired by Beckett’s remembrances of his native Foxrock, All That Fall is a dark comedy that makes you laugh and then wipes it all out.
Theme-wise, it’s not far from Beckett’s preoccupying topics that have to do with the complexity of human nature, alienation, death and of course, the inescapable fixation with the disintegration of language. Maddy explicitly asks – almost rhetorically – if her words sound bizarre, something later on brought to light again as a confirmation by her husband, Dan.
As with anything written by Beckett, and considering the rarity of this experience, the performance of All That Fall is not to be missed. Go and get yourself blindfolded. Do my words sound bizarre? It’s how Beckett likes them.
All That Fall continues at Bristol Old Vic Paintshop until Saturday, March 12. For more info and to book tickets, visit: www.bristololdvic.org.uk/allthatfall.html.
Photographs: Robert Workman