Samuel Beckett’s Radio Play “All That Fall” by Pan Pan at Dublin’s Project

Over in Dublin, it looks like Gavin Quinn’s Pan Pan has worked wonders with Samuel Beckett’s 1956 radio play All That Fall. Irish Theatre Magazine has both an interview with Quinn as well as a glowing review of the show, which plays at Project Arts Centre though Sept. 2, both of which are well worth reading.

It’s a fascinating concept, because, as previously mentioned, it’s a radio play, and the Beckett estate being notoriously tight-fisted about any production that deviates from the established norm, it’s hard to imagine a production that’s not, as I recently described it, a Masterpiece Theater-version. As even ITM‘s critic Patrick Lonergan notes:

[P]erhaps the second important point [about the production] is how refreshing (and unusual) it is to be surprised by an Irish production of a play by Beckett – a writer whose works are usually treated so reverentially that they’re in danger of becoming museum pieces. While this is a very faithful rendition of the play, Pan Pan provide an experience that is genuinely different from anything you’ll have encountered in the theatre before.

Photo by Ros Kavanaugh

Overly protective literary estates should take note–preventing innovation in theatrical presentations of old plays is killing the oeuvres they purport to defend. The idea that an intelligent critic could be saying that about Samuel Beckett is a distressing thing; Beckett was one of the most innovative dramatists of the 20th Century, and was a product of a combative avant-garde that opposed canonization. Whatever the merits of his draconian prescriptions during his life (he once compared having  a woman perform in Godot to having a soprano sing a baritone part), by my recollection, he’s been dead for more than 20 years. If white directors like Bart Sher can now stage August Wilson, surely Mabou Mines should get to have their subway-car Endgame.

Anyway, the point is that under those circumstances, it’s hard to breathe life into Beckett, but Pan Pan has done it, apparently. It turns out that Pan Pan has staged a recording of the performance, in a room replete with rocking chairs and a charming if be-numbing lighting scheme. As Lonergan describes it:

[T]he surprise – and the real pleasure – of this production lies in the design by Aedín Cosgrove. As we enter the Project Space, we’re confronted not with a conventional performance area but with a room full of rocking-chairs. On the wall to the right of the entrance, there’s an enormous bank of lights, which flood the auditorium with a soft yellow and gold haze; on the left a smaller cluster of blue lights soften that mood. To sit between the two sets of lights creates the impression of occupying a space somewhere between an intense and interrogative sunlight and a comforting moonlight – and indeed as the performance progresses, the lights seem to shift us gradually from day to night…What Pan Pan have done, then, is to create a space that is almost entirely free of sensory distractions, allowing us to listen to the play with a profound concentration. That technique allows for a better appreciation of the text, but it also imposes upon the audience many of the sensations that are described by Maddy and the other characters: a sense of blindness, a feeling of isolation despite being surrounded by others, perhaps even a sense of abandonment in space.

Anyway, the entire review is well worth reading, as is Fintan Walsh’s interview with Quinn. Unfortunately I know of no plans for the show to head elsewhere once it finishes its run at Project, Dublin’s historic and rather lovely contemporary arts space, but New York won’t be lacking for Beckett this season. Not only will Dublin’s Gate Theatre be bringing in a production of Krapp’s Last Tape for BAM’s Next Wave, starring John Hurt (which, sadly, I suspect will be overly reverential–how could it not?), but Baryshnikov Arts Center is hosting Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord/Peter Brook‘s Fragments in November, which is surely one of the can’t-miss-it events of the season.
Update: It’s come to my attention (thanks to Sarah Bishop-Stone, thank you!) that Pan Pan will in fact be in NYC in November with The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane at the Skirball Center in November.

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