Samuel Beckett was famously exacting about how his work should be performed. And the Beckett Estate has upheld this ethos since his death. So, how do you get around that, if you want to adapt one of his radio plays for theatre? If you’re Out of Joint’s artistic director, Max Stafford-Clark, you take away people’s sight.
Several companies have tackled All That Fall since its first BBC broadcast in 1957. Where some have emphasised non-naturalism, others have put the actors behind the audience. Stafford-Clark’s production – first staged at the 2015 Enniskillen International Beckett Festival and now at Wilton’s Music Hall as part of a tour – puts us in airline eye-masks.
It’s a simple approach that intensifies the rich drollness of Beckett’s radio-inflected descriptiveness, as the impossible Mrs Rooney travels along a rural Irish track to meet her blind husband off the train. It sharpens the over-ripe wordiness of her woes, the clotted fatalism which spills out as she meets people as she gradually completes a circuit around us.
Practical and pre-recorded sound effects, played through strategically positioned speakers, add depth to the production’s aural landscape, justifying its existence beyond radio. But some advice: keep your eyes shut. The eye-masks don’t completely block out light and movement, which can be distracting.
Bríd Brennan wrings much humour out of the martyr-ish Mrs Rooney. Sighing and lamenting, or righteously indignant, she and the rest of the vocally rich cast provide a strong imaginative scaffold for Beckett’s comic, irony-infused, near allegorical snapshot of life.