Pros: Beckett’s rarely produced radio play is performed by a fantastic cast, in the round, to blindfolded listeners. With its first class sound design and direction, this production makes sure the audience loses nothing in their loss of sight.
Cons: The seats at Wilton’s are small and could be a little more generously spaced – it felt quite close being shoulder to shoulder with the adjacent patrons.
Blindfolded Beckett: an intriguing and exciting prospect for me, as Beckett’s work is difficult for the audience at the best of times. Removing the ability to see can only add to the challenge. This work was written for radio in 1956 and Beckett was adamant that it should never be staged as it was only intended to be heard. To honour his wishes, this production asks the audience to wear blindfolds and listen to the voices without seeing a thing. It proves to be more than just a listening exercise, as the loss of sight heightens the sound and intensifies the concentration required to follow the drama.
Thankfully, All That Fall offers a more conventional drama format than many of Beckett’s other works. It is the story of Mrs Rooney’s walk to and from the station to meet her husband off the train. She encounters several locals along the way and engages in dialogue, which seems banal but is tinged with dark undertones of loss and lament. The train is late, which raises many questions and proffers more opportunity for morbidity, all wrapped in a polite social context. When the train finally arrives, Mr and Mrs Rooney make the journey home together. We only find out what delayed the train in the dying minutes of the play, and if you have been listening intently up to that point, you may deduce your own conclusion as to the ultimate cause. Although the format is conventional dialogue, there is plenty of content and subtext to keep even the purist Beckett fans happy.
There are many dramatic devices employed in this work which have been capitalised on under the direction of Max Stafford-Clark. The theatre is set out in the round and the actors move around the space amongst the audience. The effect is that of being situated along the road Mrs Rooney travels on, eavesdropping on her conversations, some near and some further away. The sound design is excellent – the sound effects move around the space in 360 degree surround sound. A horse and cart, a bicycle, a car and a train arrive and leave, not only getting louder and fainter but moving across the audience’s aural field. It is very clever stuff. The acting is first class and the voices ring clearly in the darkness of the blindfolded audience, every character distinctly defined and perfectly acted. This is a unique theatre experience delivered with the precision and direction it demands to pull it off perfectly.
It was my first visit to Wilton’s Music Hall and what a gem it is! Burgeoned with character and architectural awe befitting the 1860’s build date, the hall is like nothing I have seen in London. Add a welcoming and friendly staff, a busily buzzing bar on the ground floor, and a rabbit warren of rooms off a smaller balcony bar, and Wilton’s becomes a very hip destination in its own right. I can’t wait to go back and actually see something performed on the stage, as the hall has its own atmosphere which could bring a special nuance to any performances staged there.
Author: Samuel Beckett
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Sound Design: Dyfan Jones
Box Office: 020 7702 2789
Booking Link: https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson/125-all-that-fall-by-samuel-beckett
Booking Until: 9 April 2016