Rockin with strangers

All That Fall (Pan Pan Theatre)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

February 11 – 16

The most well-meaning play can easily fall apart without a good plot. But what if plot is all you’ve got because all you are doing is listing to the some words in the darkness? This is what Samuel Beckett envisioned when he wrote the 1956 radio play “All That Fall” ‘for voices not bodies’, imagining his creation ‘coming out of the dark’.

Experimental Irish group Pan Pan has returned to WTF (to use its ambiguously funky acronym and newly branded title) at the Brisbane Powerhouse, after last year’s retake of Isben’s classic “A Doll’s House”, with their staging of the radio play. Like their 2013 WTF offering, “All That Fall” is a play whose themes continue to resonate. Yet despite its heritage, this is a show that is anything but traditional, as it features an installation of 60 rocking chairs amongst surround sound and ambient lighting.

All That Fall - Brisbane Powerhouse pic

As an immersive, actor free examination of the nature of storytelling, from a rocking chair, “All That Fall” aims to not just blur, but dissolve the boundaries of a conventional ‘theatre’ experience – in keeping with the diversity of theatre practice that characterises WTF. Indeed, “All That Fall” boldly allows audiences to form the world of the work in their mind, forcing them to actively listen and hopefully become lost in the words and their luscious imagery, bleak in their brooding, but Beckettly absurdist in their humour.

It is a sense-deprived yet richly sensory encounter; the audience is welcome to close their eyes and listen, but the golden glow of the lights is also very much part of the experience as they illuminate the rhythm of the narrative. And at its core, the story of “All That Fall” is not all that significant; it focuses on the aging and ailing, ‘never tranquil’ Irish woman Maddy Rooney (voiced by Aine Ni Mhuiri) and her travels to the train station to surprise her blind husband on his birthday (including all the characters she meets along the way). It’s about the little details, and it is the nooks and crannies of her commute that engage listeners. We don’t know of her physical appearance. But there is immense characterisation to be drawn from the vocal delivery of nuance pace, pause, emphasis and inflection.

But this is perhaps everything we should want from theatre – no bells, no whistles, no smoke and no mirrors. Just the simplicity of storytelling as you sit surrounded by sounds and strangers, and the intriguing silence that prevails after the final words are left lingering in the darkness.

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