BAAAAAA! Moooooo! Cock-a-doodle-do!
This isn’t a review of this morning’s CBeebies programming, rather the opening sounds of Pan Pan Theatre’s production of Samuel Beckett’s one act radio play All that Fall.
Down in The Barbican centre's subterranean Pit theatre, a room full of wooden rocking chairs await the audience, who sit and sway gently for the play’s one hour and 10 minute duration, for the most part in total darkness.
There are unadorned light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and a wall of simple yellow spotlights (used to good effect when needed, for example becoming the headlamps of an approaching car) so it’s not total blackout, but the sensory deprivation, the absence of actors bodies or a stage does focus your mind on one thing - the words.
Everyone bangs on about how good Beckett was at doing silence and all credit to Sam, he gave us some great gaps, but in this play it’s the words that hold weight.
The storyline couldn’t be simpler. A fat old lady (Maddy Rooney) walks to a train station and meets some folk on her way. She collects her husband Dan (who is blind and wishes he was born deaf and dumb too) and they walk home together. Episodes of TOWIE have had a more complex narrative.
On sexual innuendo too, Beckett is a match for the perpetually randy TOWIE cast. Mr Tyler stops to pump his tyre, which then goes flat. When Maddy Rooney requires assistance from Mr Slocum (I mean that name alone…) getting into his car, it all becomes a bit Carry On... It’s all ooohs and aaaah, panting and puffing, harder, that’s it, get it in, I’m coming…even in the dark, you get the picture.
As you would expect with ol’ bummed-out Beckett as well as sex, there is death in abundance – a tragedy on the train, a child that died that ‘was never fully born’, devastating references to Maddy’s daughter Minnie who would have been approaching the menopause if she was alive and less awfully, a chicken mowed down on the road.
As much as she prays for death, it’s the caustic, maudlin and sometimes mad Mrs Rooney whose one foot in front of the other approach keeps this play going. She’s a drama queen, a total quitter and like most brilliant ageing women, she unapologetically speaks her mind.
Her description about just wanting to give up and collapse like a gelatinous lump on the road letting the flies land on her is hilarious.
There’s a fair dose of abuse for the church too…the Rooney’s get a good laugh out of speculating what will be read from the pulpit this week, will it be ‘How to be happy though married?’
With or without visible actors, All That Fall is bleak and morbid, tragic and existentialist, funny and sad. It’s Beckett.
But as well as thinking about sex, birth and death here’s a question for theatre goers to ponder, should the audience clap at the end of radio play?
International Beckett Season takes place at Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS until Sunday, June 21. The theatre programme comprises nine pieces by outstanding international companies and artists performed in four different locations. For info call the box office: 0845 120 7511 or visit www.barbican.org.uk/theatre