Last time out, in relation to ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’, I wrote the about sign-language describer providing a welcome distraction from the turgidity on stage.
There could be no such diversion for ‘All That Fall’ at Wilton’s Music Hall as the entire audience was blindfolded for the duration of the play.
The Beckett estate is famously protective, giving permission for his work to be performed on strict condition that they follow his original instruction. ‘All That Fall’ was a radio play, so there are no stage direction, no costumes, no prescriptions on the appearance or countenance of the characters.
The deployment of blindfold was Out of Joint’s elegant solution to this problem. We should be thankful for their ingenuity.
It’s a corny old truism that people who are deprived of one sense find the others over-compensating. So, for example, people who are blind or partially sighted are said to have above-average hearing. The science behind this idea is sketchy at best.
Yet for the 60 minutes this production, the loss of sight forced the audience (or this member of it at least) to create for ourselves the setting, the backdrop, the movement and expressions of the characters, and the rest of this individually-improvised fictional universe. The three friends who joined me also enjoyed this innovation and the challenge it created of making the audience work in a creative fashion.
To conjure and nurture this mindscape, we have the words of “Beckett’s best play” as Michael Billington bravely but accurately describes it. ‘All That Fall’ is often described at one of his most naturalistic / least absurdist works. It is set in a small Irish village populated by recognisable characters in everyday occupations.
In the finest Beckettian style, very little happens. A woman goes to collect her husband from the station, the train is late, it eventually arrives, and they walk home together. Yet within that simple narrative we contemplate the nature of existence, faith, memory, identity and much else through the encounters Maddy has along the way. “Don’t mind me. Don’t take any notice of me. I do not exist. The fact is well known” she explains to one baffled interlocutor.
‘All That Fall’ is also very, very funny, from Maddy’s attempt to climb in and out of a car that is far too small for her generous frame, to the much darker humour as the play reaches its ambiguous un-conclusion.
Without giving too much, an unexplained death is the focus of the final movement of the play. This is another very familiar Beckett move, of leaving things unresolved and unknowable.
As the play came to its end, I found myself wiping away a few tears. Or trying as best as I could while blindfolded.
I’d found myself heavily invested in the play, and Maddy’s simple desire to get back home with her husband safe and warm. In addition, as a brief personal aside, I’d had a call a few hours before the start of the play letting me know that my Nan had died. She was 85 and had been ill for a while. Not a surprise, but still a shock when you get the dreaded call.
I wondered if the play might ‘take my mind off it’ for a little while. In fact, Maddy was a head-strong, loquacious, Irish matriarch. Oh, Nanna Molly, you would have liked her!
11 down – 90 to go.