WTF14 Brisbane Powerhouse
February 13 – 23 2014
All That Fall
Pan Pan Theatre (Ireland)
February 11 – 16 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Playing around with dark and light, sound and Samuel Beckett’s text, a radio play, All That Fall, Pan Pan Theatre returns to Brisbane Powerhouse for WTF14 in a glorious golden wash. This production looks and sounds as though it should work – and indeed, it does work – but I’m left rocking in my chair pondering the relationship between director and author, wondering if this is theatre. Well, of course it is (everything is theatre). It’s just a little different to what we’ve been seeing lately.
Beckett was adamant that no radio play of his would be staged, going to great lengths during his lifetime to ensure his wishes were followed, telling his American publisher that the piece was “for voice not bodies” and wanting us to feel a sense of “the whole thing’s coming out of the dark”. Director, Gavin Quinn, has been faithful to the original intention of the writer, but has he created something that we enjoy as much as we might have 55 years ago?
The whole “active listening” experience these days may or may not be as entertaining as Beckett intended. I’m an Audible girl and I love listening to my stories, lectures, and Richard Fidler’s Conversations while I’m busy doing something else. And there it is. We’re trying to keep up in a fast-paced, multitasking world, in which – unless you’re sitting in church or the theatre (#samesame) – the skill of just sitting and listening has already been left behind, a little scornfully at times, at school. Can you just sit and listen? Or do you need to be driving, or running, or cooking, or doing the housework?
In the audience last night, rocking gently or not, as each would have it, there were young and old. A boys’ school group, some of them listening intently, and a woman of what I like to call indeterminate elderly age, superbly groomed with hair perfectly set and lipstick flawlessly, expertly applied, ready for either a debutante ball or an evening at home in front of the wireless. I found the people watching aspect of the production fascinating, each individual comfortable (or not) in their own little world, some with their eyes closed, some emitting gentle laughter, some attempting to hide smirks…or not. (Out of the entire program, what a strange choice this production seems to be for a boys’ senior theatre class! Did I miss something since I’ve been back in primary schools this year!?).
I loved hearing the voices of the actors and I wanted to see them, their faces and bodies in the space, “a listening chamber”, made warm and welcome and intimate by Designer, Aedin Cosgrove, with rocking chairs, a wall of lights, and a sky of starry bulbs hanging over our heads. I heard the skull reference in the text but even so, the skull cushions (and the children’s carpet beneath our feet) were to me red herrings, to take my train of thought along obscure tracks involving poor Yorick and…train sets. Actually, I could be right on the money with those thoughts of life and death and train tracks. The moment a little boy explains to the couple (Aine Ni Mhuiri & Andrew Bennett) why the train has arrived 15 minutes late (the train is never late) is a ghastly, truly chilling one. But I digress. It’s not that I don’t trust my imagination – there are times when I actually do prefer living there – but I wonder whether or not a radio play was ever going to be my preferred medium. Perhaps in a previous life. Perhaps not. Perhaps Pan Pan’s All That Fall feels more like an installation than a show. And sometimes that’s enough, and sometimes it’s not.
Last year, thanks to Playlab and a clever local cat by the name of Sue Davis, we staged a reading at Noosa Arts Theatre of George Landen Dann’s The Orange Grove. Accomplished voices, including that of Kate Wilson’s, led us into the world of a lonely woman who fought to the bitter end to save her precious Sunshine Coast property from development – true story. We lit an exquisitely simple green dress, mentioned in the text, and a Chinese vase, also mentioned in the text. The staging was so minimal it allowed us to sit, on stage and at the same time, one with the audience, when we were not speaking. The feedback from the audience was unanimously that it was a beautiful thing (and, “Why is there not more theatre like this?”).
Of course both forms are valid, and they are beautiful things in their own right, but if you’re the sort of person who might squirm at the 25-minute mark (it’s a 70-minute recording), you are well within your rights, when there is so much on offer, to think twice about sitting through this show. Having said that, you know me; of course I’m going to challenge you to do so because, again, this IS theatre, and though it may not be your cup of tea it’s a unique evening (or morning or afternoon. The benefits of bringing out no actors obviously include multiple performances per day) and one that you may not get the chance to experience outside of this festival. Having said that, we have a brilliant head and heart in Brisbane, in theatre practitioner Sarah Winter, and in terms of design and the feelings evoked by the design last night, her 2012 production for La Boite Indie, A Dinner of Gravity, came to mind.
The final moments are the most theatrical. Jimmy Eadie‘s soundscape ebbs and flows and allows the darkness and light to go with it hand in hand, finally sending us off into a fiercely stormy night. And it’s by far the best storm I’ve ever had the wonder of sitting with. I’ve been (actively) listening (whilst driving) to Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes lately and I think those final moments of Pan Pan’s All That Fall feel rather like the notion of sitting with death, and all the possibility of life at the same time. And then it’s difficult to know if it’s time to go, making it a piece that in the end doesn’t invite any applause, but instead, a little bit of bewilderment and also, the self doubt that says – irritatingly because you know it’s mostly right – “Why have I questioned its form at all?” If you’re prepared to sit with All That Fall, you might just enjoy it.
Pan Pan’s work – some of the most innovative and original in Ireland since the company’s 1991 founding – is nothing if not representative of the porous boundaries between visual art, sound art, theatre design, installation, live art, and performance…Pan Pan is more alert than many other companies to the increasingly obvious fact that the choice between pure experimentation and keeping “faith” with authorial intention is, like all binaries, a Faustian bargain. It is not either/or, but both/and: Pan Pan’s productions are still partly “coming out of the dark,” and we are also asked to “listen to the light”.