Out of Joint’s recent production of Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall, directed by the renowned founder of the company, Max Stafford-Clark, is an intriguing attempt to reconcile the intimacy of a radio play with the immediacy of live performance. There is certainly a frisson of anticipation among the audience as we take our blindfolds, and many an excited exchange of glance as, following a short but warm welcome and introduction from the cast, we donned them and surrender to the darkness.
The ensuing result is, as might be expected in such experimental enterprises, mixed. People do fascinating things on radio to create the geography of a situation with only sound (footsteps fading and growing in volume to indicate proximity, etc), and, to its credit, the production highlights how this effect might be taken to another level with, for example, the sensation of actually feeling the impact of footfalls vibrate through the floor close by you. Another excellent example is that of the arrival of the train, which materialises with such a roar that I am forced to wince in anticipation a possible collision, so, in these respects, the play is successful.
However, not all such effects transition so smoothly to the real world. There is a frustrating discord between the live sound effects (footsteps, patting a horse, etc) and the recorded articles, such as birdsong – despite the surrounding speakers, the ear is not fooled, and placed them very distinctly in separate worlds, creating a distinctly jarring effect. Another problem is the geography, undermined somewhat by the staging; a block of audience members in the centre of the room, with more around the edges, forming a channel between them in which a lot of the action takes place. If our eyes were open, the situation of being in a theatre might make it easier to perceive, for example, the passage of the actors along this route as representative of a journey to the station but, to the unforgiving ear, it just sounds like people walking round in circles. This sort of thing is much easier to make sense of in radio, where the director has complete control over the world created, but, on stage, these problems detract rather from the action.
A shame, because, as a conventional performance, the staging would, I’m sure, be interesting, rather than distracting, and the vocal efforts of the cast display great technical expertise and stagecraft from what is clearly a very capable troupe. They do, on occasion, demonstrate another issue of a ‘live’ radio performance; even in normal theatre, the voice is necessarily more muscular than the mumbled naturalism of, e.g. television. However, when the voice is the only gateway to understanding, the actors walk a very fine line between making it so affected that it begins to flirt with melodrama, but keeping the diction and vocal technique to a level where the text is comprehensible. On the whole, however, the cast navigate this pitfall very capably, with only the occasional deviation which detracts little from the overall performance.
In summary, an interesting and sterling attempt into what may well prove to be a very rich vein of theatrical possibility. Whatever it’s failings, it has at least highlighted the problems that are to be overcome if this particular style is to become a viable undertaking. 3/5
Review written by James Adams.
All That Fall is currently showing at the Bristol Old Vic until Saturday 12th March. For more information on the production, visit here…