‘Is that it?’ was the clamour of a few of the audience members immediately after the end of the performance. But this wasn’t an exclamation of disappointment. It was an insuppressible utterance for more.
The Pan Pan Theatre production company brought Samuel Beckett’s one-act 1957 radio play, All That Fall, to aural life in the Pit theatre at the Barbican. The audience are invited to sit where they please, on sporadically placed rocking chairs in a room that can only be described as a ‘sombre listening chamber.’
Jimmy Eadie’s effective use of sound design had the actors controlling the entire audial experience. The actors (in dramatic soundscaping fashion) introduced the play by voicing the sounds of barnyard animals and ended it by mimicking the convincing sound of a storm – allowing us to be immediately immersed within Beckett’s dismal, rural world.
Aside from sound, the only other sense we are invited to use was sight, but of course, to some degree. There were dozens of light bulbs hung randomly (or so it appeared) on thin wires from the ceiling along with an array of lights on the wall facing the audience. Aedín Cosgrove’s ingenious use of lighting glared into existence by having you, at times, envision the headlights of a car or even the twinkling stars of an Irish sky.
I was rather afraid that this performance would have had the effect of a glorified audiobook. And I was also worried that the dearth of any visible actors would have (if you’ll excuse the pun) enfeebled Beckett’s vision. But my fears were allayed after that one hour and ten minute performance. This was a drama performance to a T – exercising the subtle nuances that any good quality play would have utilised, made more extraordinary by the fact that all this was done without any live actors.
This was a regressive experience too. The uniquely charming effect of having your sense of vision obliterated and completely bent into the will of the performance reminded me of being young, driven by the power of my imagination. I was focused solely on the words and envisioned my own characters – my own little, old Maddy and my own grumpy, old Dan.
My only qualm with this production was that there was just something missing. I felt that the lighting, despite being creative, was not utilised to an innovative degree. I appreciate that the true focal point of the play is in the words more than anything – but at times I struggled to see what some of the lighting attempted to convey. A scene at a train platform, for example, left me puzzled as to how the lighting connoted to that in any way. A few times it felt like I was looking at a constellation and trying to figure out how or why that disfigured coat hanger could possibly be Leo.
But the effect of trying to convince your audience to imagine the story yourself was indeed successful – and one that should be encouraged by all. If you believe in the legacy of a legend, know that Beckett lives on, and he’s at the Barbican.