Directed by Trevor Nunn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“The LORD upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.” Psalm 145:14 (NIV)
During her belabored round trip from her home to the train station to pick up her husband Mr. Rooney (Michael Gambon) on his birthday, Mrs. Rooney (Eileen Atkins) rehearses the variety of her physical and emotional deficits: there is much that has “bowed down” this seemingly broken older woman; however, she has all but given up on any chance of divine intervention for redemption or release. The Rooney’s malaise is the subject of Samuel Beckett’s timeless “All That Fall” currently gracing the Theater A stage at 59E59.
This 1956 one-act radio play is Samuel Beckett tragicomedy at its best. Underscored (figuratively) by Franz Shubert’s “Death and the Maiden,” “All That Fall” is a testament to death and all its precursors and its movements (the trip to the station alone, events at the station, the walk home together) counterpoint the vicissitudes of the human experience as seen from the point of view of all that is absurd and surreal.
The brokenness of Maddy’s and Dan’s lives is unmasked in Maddy’s conversations with stydung salesperson Christy (Ruairi Conaghan), cyclist Mr. Tyler (Frank Grimes), her old admirer Mr. Slocum (Trevor Cooper), station porter Tommy (Billy Carter), stationmaster Mr. Barrell (James Hayes), Protestant do-gooder Miss Fitt (Catherine Cusack), and with her husband Dan on the way home from the station. When Maddy feels ignored by Tommy, she expresses the ultimate of twenty-first century ennui as she shares with him, “Don’t mind me. Don’t take any notice of me. I do not exist. The fact is well known.”
Miss Fitt (Catherine Cusack) is not the only misfit on the journey from Brighton Road to Foxrock Railway Station. Everyone Maddy Rooney encounters has issues of loss, poor health, maladjustment, madness, or sheer meanness. Oddly the only centered character is young Jerry (Liam Thrift) who is saddled with the adult responsibility of delivering a ball Mr. Rooney apparently dropped on the train. He also delivers the news that the train was delayed because “It was a little child fell out of the carriage.”
The production is faithful to the Beckett estate’s conditions for staged readings: producers agree to limit the action to actors speaking the lines and walking to and from chairs. Under Trevor Nunn’s genteel direction, the brilliant ensemble cast manages to convince the audience it is observing a radio broadcast that would take place with or without the onlookers. It is the audience’s privilege to be able to “peek” into the “studio” as the actors move from chairs to “overhead microphones” back to their seated positions when not “reading” their scripts.
Whether we exist or not is not a question relevant to Maddy Rooney alone: nor is wondering if there is anyone “out there” to lift us up when we fall. Samuel Beckett’s “All That Fall” allows the listener to tune into her or his own sense of lassitude and abandonment. The radio play also allows the audience to honestly face its own complicity in the falling of others from grace, in the “falling under the wheels” of those who by their very existence challenge our autonomy and authenticity.