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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Theatre review: All That Fall will engulf you in the lavishness of its language

Blackbird Theatre specializes in classic theatrical works by such masters as Ibsen, Chekov, Moliere, and Albee – often with astonishing results. Their latest offering, Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall is equally astonishing, but provides some challenges.

[pullquote]Part of the wonder of this theatre outing is watching the actors ‘lift’ the words from the page and breathe life into as these eccentric characters…[/pullquote]Written in 1956, three years after Beckett’s more famous Waiting For Godot was first performed, All That Fall is only granted license as a staged radio play, since the playwright felt it should be heard and not seen. The stipulation means it is performed with sound effects, actors at microphones, and without more traditional set or staging.

It’s a simple character driven comedy with dark undertones. Maddy Rooney is a fat old Irish woman who decides to wander down to the train station to surprise her blind husband because it his birthday. Her trip is filled with folly and some symbolism as various men try to help her reach her destination. When she finally does reach the station the train is mysteriously delayed.

Part of the wonder of this theatre outing is watching the actors ‘lift’ the words from the page and breathe life into as these eccentric characters (some play more than one).

Adam Henderson is completely transformed in voice as he plays Mr. Slocum and Mr. Barrell, as well as providing some of the live sound effects. Gerald Plunkett and Leanna Brodie are also exquisitely detailed in the two characters they each play.

William Samples as the Mr. Rooney brings a dogged weariness with pluck and determination that simultaneously charms and makes one wary. Our heroine and narrator is the remarkable Lee Van Paassen who takes what can be a weary sad-sack character and makes her joyously tragic, and passionately woebegone.

As a radio play with its story of words, audiences are encouraged to close their eyes as it is performed. To that end, lighting designer Jeff Harrison keeps things very dark, however when we come into the theatre we can see various stations and devices for creating the Foley / sound effects, but when the show starts it is so dimly lit that it obscures them.

Some will want to read the synopsis in the program first as the language demands attention, and as director says Duncan Fraser in his notes: we are a generation of “Screenagers”, more attuned to seeing images. The effect of only hearing the words, however brilliantly spoken, left my companion questioning the need for the experience and was unmoved.

For lovers of language though this is another exquisite theatrical treat from Blackbird Theatre, where you can lean back and be engulfed in the lavishness of its interchange.

All That Fall by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Duncan Fraser. A Blackbird Theatre production on stage at the Cultch Historic Theatre through January 24.  Visit for tickets and information.

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