It’s a shame that Halloween has come and gone, because Trevor Nunn’s expert, no-frills remounting of Samuel Beckett?s 1957 radio play All That Fall truly produces shivers. The playwright was reportedly in a state of deep depression when he composed the piece (he called it ”a text written to come out of the dark”). But he looked down the rabbit hole of despair with a generous amount of his signature gallows humor.
The story follows haggard, ornery old Mrs. Rooney (Eileen Atkins) as she literally drags her heels to meet her even more mysterious, blind husband (Michael Gambon) at a train depot, a site which ends up being decidedly ominous. Throughout 75 taut, captivating minutes, the cast recite their lines holding scripts on a stage designed like a recording studio, with mics hanging low from the ceiling like bats in slumber, and the mood is suitably foreboding.
A supporting cast of seven sits on the sidelines (seemingly out of character until they go on), as the old couple?s journey unfolds. During the more humorous first half, our aged leading lady struggles toward the railway station, with help from colorful locals, including a condescending kook aptly named Miss Fitt (Catherine Cusack) and Mr. Slocum (Trevor Cooper), a brusque driver who, in a terrifically daffy bit, attempts to literally squeeze Mrs. Rooney in and out of his vintage automobile — one of several birthing metaphors Beckett weaved into his highly interpretive play.
One of the delicious ironies of Nunn’s production is having Atkins play a frail, bitter pill of a woman when she remains as vibrant as actresses decades younger, with comic timing you could set a Swiss watch to. Gambon, with less stage time, is an expert scene partner and terrific visual match for her (their faces seem like they’ve sprung right out of P.G. Wodehouse). And when Beckett’s tone veers from darkly comic to just plain dark toward the show’s end, these magnetic stage vets make sure the proper chill remains in the air. A?