Friday, November 16, 2012


at The Arts Theatre

I'd happily listen to him read the Telephone Directory.
Often said of the best actors.
But Beckett is not the phone book. And Gambon's performance in All That Fall is not a reading, despite the strictures of the Beckett estate. These keepers of the flame insist that this radio play should always be just that. Olivier was refused permission to stage it. So was Bergman. Trevor Nunn gets the gig, and cleverly sets it in a fifties studio, old-fashioned mics suspended from the ceiling, chairs and benches around the sides, and in pride of place, a roughly mocked-up "limousine", with a practical door. Not just for the slam – done on the FX track anyway - but happily if illicitly used for the glorious sequence when Maddy accepts a lift from Mr Slocum, mounting and alighting with some difficulty.

Gambon's shambling, florid "poor blind Dan" is excellent, especially in his outbursts of despair. The show belongs, though, to Eileen Atkins as his equally decrepit wife, plagued by "rheumatism and childlessness". She stands, bent and frail in her dress with the frayed hem, and brings a tragic depth to the character, whilst not missing any of the many laughs. The presence of a capacity, clued-up audience, making a very different dynamic from that of the solipsistic listener in the wireless dark. As Dylan Thomas would agree. She has clearly learnt her part, and only occasionally glances down at the dog-eared script in her hand. “Do not imagine, because I am silent, that I am not present," she chides, in another sly reference to the original medium.

There is also a radio repertory company in support, though they don't make the farmyard noises. One of the themes of the piece is death, specifically the death of children. Dan has a boy [Aidan Dunlop] as a minder, who leads him,Tiresias-like into the action, and who brings the play to its close by revealing why the train was late into the Boghill station. So the laughter [at the Biblical text which gives the piece its title] gives way to wordless despair and the "tempest of wind and rain".

A rare opportunity this, to hear how a classic masterpiece fares in front of an audience, and to witness two of the greatest actors of their generation bring it to exuberant life.

the original radio version ...

No comments:

Post a Comment