IT’S DARK. YOU’RE sitting on the Abbey Theatre stage. Above and in front of you are rows of yellow incandescent bulbs.
You’re surrounded by people sitting on rocking chairs.
A woman’s voice suddenly booms out.
This isn’t a strange dream – it’s a new unique show from Pan Pan Theatre which is bringing Samuel Beckett, and, in an unusual step, the audience onto the stage.
Rather than sitting in the stalls, the audience get to sit on the stage and listen to a Samuel Beckett radio play which has been specially recorded by Pan Pan. The play, All That Fall, was written in 1956.
The story was so close to Beckett’s own life that it sent him into a “whirl of depression”. At the centre of the tale is Maddy Rooney, a Foxrock woman who is off to meet her husband from the train. But things don’t go as planned – and you end up questioning what’s real, and what’s in Maddy’s mind.
The play also led to the founding of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (which was behind the Doctor Who theme), because of the new technologies that were invented during its production.
Rather than go for the oldschool approach, Pan Pan made a new recording using digital technology.
“In a way it’s like an installation of this radio play,” said Gavin Quinn, co-director of Pan Pan.
“We made this environment, a dreamlike environment which the audience experiences while listening to or being part of that radio play. It’s psychologically absorptive. It really activates you when you’re in this room all listening to this Beckett play together. The audience are part of it - almost like a social sculpture.”
The lights even change in response to what’s happening.
“People enjoy the atmosphere – they find it a comfortable, exciting space to be in,” said Quinn.
An interesting whodunnit
The floor of the stage is covered with a giant carpet that looks like it comes from a child’s bedroom. Nothing about the experience – from the design of the rug to the placing of the lights and chairs – is incidental.
There are even some smells which drift in while you sit back.
“It’s a very unusual piece and that’s why we decided to do it in this way. It works on the basis that it’s very immediate,” said Quinn.
The play has “a very special piece in the Beckett canon”, he added. “It’s a really enjoyable, interesting whodunnit - it’s a literary mystery with a thriller ending to it.”
If you were ever curious about Beckett’s output, (particularly since it’s 110 years since he was born) but unsure where to start, this is a chance to experience a more accessible work of his. “You can appreciate all of Beckett’s sense of humour and his gift for language,” said Quinn.
In an era where the smartphone can take up much of our attention, it’s also a chance to just sit there and experience something entirely new, without distraction.
Quinn describes the play as “incredibly absorbing”, with microphone techniques used to ensure that the characters’ voices are heard loud and clear.
“The joke that radio is a very visual medium – that is true,” he said. “You can visualise these characters in situations where you don’t actually see them.”
All That Fall runs from 11 – 20 February , with performances at 1pm, 3pm, 5pm, 7pm and 9pm (except tomorrow, where performances are 7pm and 9pm only). More information on the Abbey Theatre website.