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A CurtainUp London Review
All That Fall
The cast in costume, sit on benches at either end of the stage waiting to take part. They speak their parts holding scripts. There are sheep baaing, birds singing and farmyard animals, maybe pigs snoring, should we not realise from other clues that this is the countryside. We hear cartwheels on gravel and Mrs Rooney dragging her swollen feet and ankles. These sound cues are detailed in Beckett’s script which is probably his most accessible and audience friendly.
The play concentrates on Mrs Rooney’s journey and all the local characters she meets on the way. This is an area where everyone knows everyone else’s business and they all enquire about the health of relatives. She first meets Christie (Ruairi Conaghan) a carter and commends him on his frankness in her own candid way. We are told about Little Minnie, the daughter the Rooneys have lost as a child. She muses that if Minnie had lived now she would be of an age when, “she would be girding up her loins, ready for the change.” Mr Tyler (Frank Grimes) meets her on his bike. Mr Slocombe (Gerard Horum) the clerk of the racecourse will try to give her lift and literally be stuck with trying to lift and wedge the very stiff and supposedly very obese Mrs Rooney into the cab of his vehicle. She describes herself as “a big, pale blur”. Now Eileen Atkins is very slim so this is casting for radio!
What makes this production is the utterly compelling Eileen Atkins with the gloriously comic asides from Beckett as she divulges every detail and eccentrically comments on herself and others. “It is suicide to be abroad . . . . but what is it to be at home?” she asks. Her humour is self deprecating and her range of expression a master class in acting. There is excellent support from James Hayes’ grumpy Station Master, Mr Barrell and the spinster Miss Fitt (Catherine Cusack) whom Mrs Rooney calls “the dark Miss Fitt”. Miss Fitt goes on and on and Eileen Atkins spins slowly towards us, her eyes conveying the agony of enduring Miss Fitt’s monologue.
Michael Gambon arrives late and is rather sullen and morose. He is bad tempered towards his wife as he recalls being buried alive in his office yet we also see a moment of tenderness between husband and wife. I will not reveal why he is late and how that will trouble both Rooneys. It is almost criminal that so few will be able to see this production. The waiting list is closed at Jermyn Street and the staff there must be daily disappointing those hoping to see it. Could All That Fall be filmed so that acting students might see this brilliant production for posterity? I feel very privileged to have seen it.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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