Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Aug 23-Sept 2
My review of Pan Pan’s All That Fall by Samuel Beckett coming up just as soon as you shed light on my lifelong preoccupation with horses’ buttocks ...
“The entire scene, the hills, the plain, the racecourse with its miles and miles of white rails and three red stands, the pretty little wayside station, even you yourselves, yes, I mean it, and over all the clouding blue, I see it all, I stand here and see it all with eyes ... through eyes ... of if you had my eyes ... you would understand ... the things they have seen ... and not looked away”
- Mrs. Rooney
In 2006 Pan Pan premiered punk musical Oedipus Loves You – a garage rock reboot of the Sophoclean myth where Oedipus and his dysfunctional family sparred with prophecies and plagues using undignified guitar ballads and hypnotizing synths. One of the striking aspects of the production was its de-hierarchization of a singular point of focus. With actions occurring simultaneously and live monitors showing the stage from various perspectives, Oedipus was an exercise in visual angles with the audience consistently choosing where to direct their sight. With After The Fall, Pan Pan artistic directors Gavin Quinn and Aedín Cosgrove are returning to that palpable playground of sensual experience.
Beckett’s radio play tells the story of seventy-year old Mrs. Rooney and her gruelling walk to the Boghill train station to meet her blind husband on his birthday. Though driven by this act of kindness, she has little other than resentment for the world in which she now suffers in her elderly state. By the time she reaches the station she realises that the train is uncharacteristically late.
The upstairs space of the Project Arts Centre has been re-kitted into a listening chamber, replacing the usual seating rig with a flock of rocking chairs and a hail of light-bulbs suspended overhead. A skull illustration on the seat cushions reminds that both parties are not dissimilar in their sinister sense of humour, often insulting kindness with cruelty. As we sit in our chairs an uncertainty twitches our toes but one assurance rocks us back and forth: a matrimony between Pan Pan and Beckett seems so well-fitted that it may as well be written in the sky of glowing filament above.
A blackout claims the other listeners and scenery, robbing us of our sight and focusing our hearing on the voice of Mrs. Rooney, imagined brutally and poetically by Áine Ní Mhuirí. The sound of her dragging footsteps sculpts a street setting in our heads, with carters, porters and human-voiced sheep, cows and cocks passing through. A wall of lamps flood the space with amber rays, its different permutations developing the day.
Cosgrove’s (who I imagine will be in competition with Misterman’s Jamie Vartan and Adam Silverman for the year’s best design) genius here is in how suggestions are played with and incite our sensory capacity for resemblance. A diamond-shaped compilation of lights paired with the loud sound of rattling metal forcefully brings the 12.30 train crashing into our minds. Jimmy Eadie’s sound design lands us in the centre of a violent storm at play’s end that may not shake the building but certainly the people in it. Hearing Mrs. Rooney’s footsteps married with those of her husband’s is a more beautiful sound than one would expect.
Pan Pan’s production hones in on the sensory anomalies of Beckett’s play. Mrs. Rooney continuously fails to be perceived by the other humans she meets. Perhaps this is some comment on how older individuals can be ignored in society. Or perhaps, like Mrs. Fitt (voiced here by a sharp Judith Roddy), we would sooner rather be left with ourselves as opposed to acknowledging others. We are reminded of Mrs. Rooney’s comment on Mrs. Fitt’s “piercing” eyesight at the very end as the wall of lamps burn hot and bright, reawakening us from our imaginations.
The grievances and labours of All That Fall are not alien to us. In realising that we relate to Mrs. Rooney’s anger and fear of her body’s decay we are truly transplanted into Beckett’s world. Working on a production of Beckett’s Endgame in college was one of my first theatre experiences, and the silhouettes of people in their chairs stencilling out Hamm-shaped figures in the darkness was both completely eerie and thrilling to me.
But as we rock back and forth in our chairs, exercising our muscles, one notion becomes impossible to ignore: the eventual day we all become invisible to a younger world, when our limbs will need to be carried by others, and progress will only be made in the spaces between the slow, heavy grind of footsteps.
What did everybody else think?