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All of It

  • Theatre, Experimental
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
All of It, 2020, Royal Court
Photograph: Wasi DanijuKate O’Flynn

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Kate O’Flynn gives three stunning performances in Alistair McDowall’s wildly inventive monologue trilogy

When Alistair McDowall has a new play, things are good. When he has three, things are even better. His larger canvases – ‘Pomona’, ‘X’, ‘The Glow’ – have brought genre-literate brilliance to theatre, adding a load of heart, and giving audiences something they’ve never seen before. Here he’s working on a smaller scale, with three similar-but-very-different monologues – which he refers to as ‘poems’ – written for actress Kate O’Flynn, who tackles all three spectacularly.

First and weakest is ‘Northleigh, 1940’, directed by Sam Pritchard and sort of a trilogy in itself. It starts with fantasy-infused blank verse (‘death’s obsidian hue’) before flickering to a woman bonding with her dad while lying in their Morrison shelter, before moving into strange free verse.

Pritchard also directs the second piece, ‘In Stereo’: a woman notices a stain on her wall and slowly turns into the wall (maybe?). O’Flynn stalks the stage slowly, staring at the mottled, mouldy green surroundings while her pre-recorded voice narrates and splinters into shards, echoing through different speakers around the theatre.

Third and best is the Vicky Featherstone-directed ‘All Of It’, which ran at the Royal Court on its own in 2020, one big exhalation of a monologue that follows a woman from birth to death. Be warned: it may wring you out. A skittering blast of half-sentences and repeated words, O’Flynn, sitting in darkness on a bar stool like some late night stand up act, babbles, then discovers language, goes to school, has her first kiss, goes to university, gets a job, has a daughter… on and on until the inevitable.

Though only half an hour or so, it feels like much longer - in a very good way - and through it all she barely moves, one hand stays on a handheld mic, the other on her thigh. She brings it to life just through pace and intonation, and it’s astonishing.

The ghost of Samuel Beckett’s here in the spray of McDowall’s rhythmic language that only makes sense in waves and fragments; Alan Bennett too, shades of his Talking Heads in the fine, banal details McDowall infuses into the stories – lone women talking about wallpaper kind of thing.

But it’s all really very much McDowall. Helped by Elliott Griggs’s faint lighting, he excels in stunning stage pictures – the big impression – just as much as the tiny mundane details that give his characters life. And O’Flynn takes it all more than in her stride. She brings out the percussion of McDowall’s words in their more freewheeling moments, and absolute clarity when the narrative takes back over, always keeping humour near the surface.

Of the three, it's the final piece that stands out. It feels like a modern classic, a monologue that could become a showpiece for O’Flynn or other brave performers. This may be all of it, but I want more.  

Written by
Tim Bano


£12-£49. Runs 1hr 30min
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