ALL THAT FALL
by Samuel Beckett.
Arts Theatre 6 – 7 Great Newport Street WC2H 7JB To 24 November 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 15min No interval.
TICKETS: 0207 836 8463.
Review: William Russell 8 September.
The pleasure of seeing Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon on stage where they belong rather than on screens of varying sizes is considerable, but the vehicle they have chosen is a rickety affair indeed. Samuel Beckett was a great playwright, but All That Fall as a stage play simply does not work.
It began life in 1956 as a BBC radio play and the Beckett estate apparently turned down all requests to stage it from Laurence Olivier, Ingmar Bergman and Trevor Nunn, until suddenly it relented and allowed Nunn to do it.
He has set the action in a radio studio. Dame Eileen plays Mrs Rooney, an aged Irish woman who is making her way to the station from her farm, to meet her blind husband, played by the Great Gambon, and encountering assorted locals en route.
The train is late. He is in a state. They head home. Why was it late? We are suddenly in something-nasty-in-the-woodshed territory – or perhaps not. As always in Beckett things are ambiguous.
Gambon shouts a lot, apparently having a problem adjusting vocally to the theatre, but Dame Eileen, in a shapeless cardigan and a droopy dress, is a glorious horse-faced comic delight as the feisty wife, and the script is full of funny lines as she squabbles with the people she meets.
Shut ones eyes and it works perfectly. Open them and belief evaporates. Nunn has created things for the actors to do which beggar belief. Mrs Rooney is infirm so Dame Eileen has to mime her getting into a car with difficulty – hilarious true, but hardly what the radio actress would have done.
The other players also do the oddest things because having them stand around an assortment of microphones reading their lines would have been terribly boring to watch. All That Fall started at the tiny Jermyn Street theatre where it sold out. No doubt it will do the same here, but it is a play to listen to, not to watch. The Beckett estate should have stuck to its guns.
Mrs Rooney: Eileen Atkins.
Christy: Ruairi Conaghan.
Mr Tyler: Frank Grimes.
Mr Slocum: Trevor Cooper.
Tommy Ian Conningham.
Mr Barrell: James Hayes.
Miss Fitt: Catherine Cusack.
Mr Rooney: Michael Gambon.
Jerry: Aidan Dunlop/Oliver Barry-Brook.
Voice Over: Jess Regan.
Director: Trevor Nunn.
Designer: Cherry Truluck.
Lighting: Phil Hewitt.
Sound: Paul Groothuis.
Associate director: Anthony Bigg.