Thursday, July 18

All That Fall – Toxteth Reservoir

Beckett described this radio play, first broadcast on the BBC in 1957, as ‘a text written to come out of the dark’, and director Adrian Dunbar has certainly achieved that with his choice of location and the use of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 (D.810) to frame his re-imagining of a radio play whose dark-driven conclusion is hardly credible after the preceding slapstick and pantomime of the foley, with Michael Cummins’ technical direction in conjunction with Simon Roth’s sound design retaining Beckett’s orchestrated sound effects with cast (Orla Charlton, Anna Nygh, Vincent Higgins, Stanley Townsend, Frankie McCafferty) and musicians (Darragh Morgan (violin), Cora Venus Lunny (violin), Fiona Winning (viola), Tim Gill (cello)) positioned behind the audience.

One of Beckett’s more accessible pieces, it also one of his most beguiling as what starts out as a comedy charting the journey of an old woman, Mrs Rooney, along a country road to the railway station to meet her blind husband, takes a darker turn, following the eventual arrival of his delayed train, on the accompanying journey home as it turns more into a lament to death and decay.

The language of the play finds Beckett at his most Irish as well with Mrs Rooney meeting an array of characters including a carter, a retired bill-broker, a racecourse clerk, a porter, a stationmaster, and a spinster.  Yet whilst the moving performance of the Rooney’s embodies the tetchiness, sadness, and sometimes bawdiness of old age, it is evident that they are not simple country folk as they reel off references to Dante, Descartes, and the New Testament with ease, adding another layer of complexity, laying bare what on the surface appears to be so easy.

The string quartet are accomplished and play beautifully, gently lulling us into the piece before the closing refrain acts in dissonance to the sense of loss at the end resulting in a disturbing turmoil of emotions which Beckett would have appreciated.

Toxteth Reservoir is equally beguiling as a location and serves the play well with its contrasting shadows evident as audience eyes become accustomed to the darkness. Whilst its voluminous space offered a further acoustical opportunity, it was not fully taken advantage of and on occasion became a hindrance when some cast members spoke too softly or without sufficient enunciation which is a shame because the sonic experiments, discoveries, and evolutions of All That Fall (1956) led directly to the establishment of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and it would have been good to have explored that further in this new dimension.

All That Fall performs in Liverpool and Paris as part of Unreal Cities’ Beckett: Unbound, Liverpool/Paris 2024, produced in association with the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool and the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris, and with the support of The Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs.

Further details including booking available for Liverpool at https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/humanities-and-social-sciences/research/beckett/ and Paris at https://www.centreculturelirlandais.com/en/whats-on/exhibitions-events/festival-beckett-unbound

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 31st May 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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