Review by Ellis Koch
The works of Samuel Beckett have always been known as being notoriously difficult to stage. The writer included very specific technical instructions for how his plays were to be staged and this challenge can be both exhilarating and harrowing for people producing his works. All That Fall was Beckett’s first attempt at writing for the radio format – and it is here we run into the first problem with director Melanie Beddie’s production: The play was never meant to be produced for the stage. The play lends itself well to a stage format but, specifically, should not be performed as a stage play and while great pains have been taken by Beddie to ensure the production falls, somewhat, into the radio play format, what we actually get is a theatrical interpretation of a radio play. Actors change costumes to denote character switches. The focus of their line delivery shifts between audience and other characters. They perform acts of physical comedy. And they do all of this well, however, this play, on a technical level, should be about the execution of soundscapes and should not rely on the physical elements of theatre to carry it through a production. In spite of the good work from the actors, all that was needed was their voices. If physical comedy is to be had in such a play it should come from the vigorous and clever application of live foley effects– which does occur throughout the production. One such notable moment, for example, is the use of suitcases full of what I imagine were kitchen utensils, energetically shaken up and down by several cast members to mimic the sounds of an approaching train.
Beckett’s specifications aside, the production is unfortunately let down by this hovering between two formats – radio and stage. It is jarring, as an audience member, to have the focus of the actors constantly shift inwardly and outwardly. It doesn’t know what it wants to be and so we don’t know what it is. This may work for some plays but for this particular piece it was a detriment – Actors, all with scripts in front of them, sometimes read from them, sometimes recite memorised lines. Are they actors I am watching, or characters? A stage play works to convince you that you are not watching people brilliantly plying a trade – actors weave an illusion that you are watching something real happen before you. A radio play, when viewed, revels in the presentation of the skills of its cast and crew – they deliver an illusion not for your eyes but for your ears. Notably the scripts also seemed to prove a distraction for at least one cast member who occasionally stumbled, her focus shifting between reading and reciting.
Tonally the production also somewhat misses the mark and pushes much harder on the comedic aspects (Which they deliver very well) of the dialogue than is warranted. There is a lot of darkness in the tones of All That Fall – a foreshadowing of something sinister to come is disguised in the first half as idle chatter during an innocent walk to the train station, undertaken by the main character Maddy Rooney who is played by Carole Patullo. Patullo gives a solid and boisterous performance as Maddy Rooney, a little too boisterous perhaps and this later detracts from the darker tones of the second half of the play. As an audience we remained unaware of the tonal shift that happens when Dan Rooney (Tom Considine), Maddy’s husband, starts his journey home with her and talks openly about death and his nihilistic worldview. We lose the impact of the tragedy of Maddy Rooney – her loss of a child, her loss of faith and we lose the implications of the final realisation as to why Dan’s train was delayed.
Tom Considine plays Mr. Barrell and Mr. Slocum - where he gives a decent comedic turn - but he truly shines later as Dan Rooney and treats us to a nuanced performance, deftly delivering lines of comedy and tragedy that present Dan Rooney as a man harbouring dark notions, plagued with thoughts of death.
Jane Bayly has excelled in the sound design, putting together an array of fascinating objects to create the soundscape for the play. These are all, with the exception of some questionable animal sounds at the beginning, performed and utilised wonderfully by the cast and crew. She also gives a capable performance as the characters of Christy and Miss Fitt.
Dan O’Halloran plays Mr. Tyler, Tommy and Jerry. His performance as these characters is wonderful, however - and I think this is more to do with the production dithering between radio and stage format than any fault of Mr. O’Halloran’s - there could have been more distinction between these characters but instead we are primarily presented with costume changes to depict the switch between them.
The lighting design by Bronwyn Pringle is simple and adequate. A warm state is used for actors in focus while actors not in a scene are dimly lit with the same tone. Lighting switches to a colder state in the earlier half of the production to denote Maddy Rooney’s inner dialogue. Again, I think the lighting suffers slightly from being stuck between stage and radio format. On the one hand, visually, a radio play needs only the actors in focus to be lit but, if we are to be treated to a changing state depicting character thought then it might have been good to see that, or a variation of it, brought in during the second half to help usher in the tonal shift of the dialogue.
Beddie has put together an accomplished cast. The live foley soundscape is definitely a highlight of the production, along with Tom Considine’s performance, but ultimately the production is let down by a focus on playing the material for laughs and a lack of clear choice in the direction which sees the play presented more as a theatrical interpretation of a radio play rather than the presentation of an actual radio play. I think that both concepts can exist together side by side but in this case stronger leanings towards one or the other would have been of great benefit.