All That Fall

Theater, Drama
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

All That Fall. 59E59 Theaters (see Off Broadway). By Samuel Beckett. Directed by Trevor Nunn. With Michael Gambon, Eileen Atkins. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission.

All That Fall: In brief

British theater royals Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon star in an adaptation of a 1957 radio drama by one Samuel Beckett, directed by Trevor Nunn. After two sold-out runs in London, this tale of age and loss in rural Ireland now makes a brief visit to America.

All That Fall: Theater review by David Cote

These days you can’t swing a cat without hitting a British thespian of note, plying their wares on Broadway or Off: Mark Rylance, Kathryn Hunter, Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart—just to name a few. But two of the greatest actors to come out of England in the past half century are also here, and flying slightly under the radar: Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins star in a staged version of Samuel Beckett’s 1957 BBC Radio drama All That Fall. Bizarrely, there are seats still available. Vulgar though it may be for me to flog tickets, I urge: Be wise and get yourself one.

Trevor Nunn, no slouch himself, stages the 75-minute piece as a stylized recording in a carpeted space with microphones dangling from the ceiling (and vivid sound effects courtesy of designer Paul Groothuis). Beckett’s gallows-goofy meditation on old age, barrenness and (no spoilers here) death shifts sinisterly from pastoral slapstick to a wastescape of morbid despair. Crabbed Mrs. Rooney (Atkins) treks to the train depot to greet her blind, dyspeptic husband (Gambon). Along the way she encounters a dung-cart driver (Ruairi Conaghan), a petulant bicyclist (Frank Grimes) and a race-track bookie (Trevor Cooper). Each meeting seems to further aggravate the already exasperated old lady. Once she arrives at the station, with her husband’s car delayed, the tone of the piece turns decidedly morbid. Mr. and Mrs. Rooney’s trudge back home plunges us into mystery and terror. Of course, this being Beckett, horror comes with an underscoring of low chuckles.

For anyone who has seen Gambon in his magisterial television performances (The Singing Detective) or onstage in England, this limited engagement should be unmissable. Gambon is one of the last remaining links to the golden age of 20th-century British stage acting, the awesome line that includes Gielgud, Richardson and Gambon’s own National Theatre mentor, Olivier. No less a joy is seeing the lithely acidic Atkins, last seen here in Doubt on Broadway. The two performers astound with their economy of movement, the musicality of their voices (he's a cello, she an oboe) and how their intonations unlock volumes of nuance in Beckett’s spare tragicomic text. Enacting a piece originally written for voice only, they shine bright in the dark.—Theater review by David Cote

THE BOTTOM LINE A Beckett radio rarity stars two UK legends.

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

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