Max Stafford-Clark when asked by the ever-protective Beckett estate on what his vision was for the playwright’s 1956 radio play All That Fall allegedly answered that he had no vision. In his case, he meant this literally. The actors enter the space, dressed in everyday gear and ask us to put on the blindfold provided at the door. We are dotted around, creating a playing space akin to a running track; over the course of the hour, they complete one lap of the track as Maddy Rooney, one of Beckett’s most memorable creations, completes a journey to Boghill station to pick up her husband on the 12:30 train.
By blindfolding us Stafford-Clark hopes to immerse us in the full aural experience, a radio play that he translates into a full three-dimensional experience. In reality, however, by restricting us of our sight and enhancing our listening ability, we become hyper-aware of our fellow audience members, every slight fidget and rustle, every clearing of the throat, every laugh. It reminds us we are in the theatre, far away from the world Beckett has created, of small town Irish suburbia and lilting musical phrases.
It’s unfair but thoughts inevitably turn back to Complicite’s The Encounter also seen at this theatre last year. That work was such a game changer in terms of immersive experiences that Out Of Joint’s low-key alternative just doesn’t work in the same way. Some of this is down to the sophistication of the sound effects, the cows mooing, the train coming into the station sound effects; like they’ve been pinched from those sound effect CDs you used to find in your school drama department.
Of course, there is plenty here to make it worth an hour of your time. The musicality of the Irish voice is enriched in this setting: each word and phrase, sentence and paragraph, entering the consciousness and turning, growing richer by the repetition. It lulls you into a world of cricket on the lawns, rickety bicycles going down country lanes, a hearty pint in the local. We almost forget it’s by that ultimate existentialist, creator of those great meditations on life and death until Beckett pulls the rug out at the end and leaves you with more questions than answers.
Brid Brennan as Mrs Rooney has one of those voices that people would kill for, a well-trained instrument that goes up and down the registers with barely a hint of exertion can echo around the space using just a whisper, and holds the attention for over an hour without any tricks. The rest of the cast more than hold up their end and Stafford-Clark ensures the tempo is always nailed on, a strong conductor working his magic on a difficult symphony.
Ultimately, though, it is hard to feel it doesn’t gain much in this theatrical setting. As a piece of radio work, it would be a laudable achievement; as a theatrical experience, it suffers under some illustrious predecessors.
Runs until 12 March 2016 | Image: Robert Workman