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Theatre review: All That Fall at Jermyn Street Theatre

12:31 24 October 2012

Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins in All That Fall. Picture: Polly Hancock

Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins in All That Fall. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Dame Eileen Atkins leads starry production of Samuel Beckett’s radio play with Sir Michael Gambon

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The people at Jermyn Street clearly aren’t lying when they tell you its the West End’s smallest theatre.

Crammed in around a tiny stage – which you have to walk over to reach the loos – there are a mere 70 seats. To be honest it feels like even less.

So it’s quite a thrill to see the venerable talents of Dame Eileen Atkins and Sir Michael Gambon up close in such an intimate setting, directed by another titled veteran, Sir Trevor Nunn.

Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall was written for radio in 1956 and here it is staged in a manner that falls somewhere between a radio reading and a fully-blown production.

There’s little in the way of movement or set design and the cast all hold scripts, while old fashioned microphones hang from the ceiling, in case you were unsure what to expect.

But through the use of sound effects and the flexing of the cast’s considerable strengths, and above all Atkins’ enthralling turn, the audience is whisked away into the Irish rural setting with no trouble. Oh, and Beckett’s pinpoint and melodic language doesn’t hurt.

Atkins is excellent as the elderly Mrs Rooney, who is making her way to the train station to surprise her husband on his birthday. (That’s about the size of it when it comes to plot).

It’s a wonder that she bothers: every step of the journey is a trial, the cast of characters she meets along the way all a gruelling nuisance. Yet aided by Beckett’s writing, Atkins pulls off the difficult trick of remaining deeply entertaining while moaning incessantly.

When her husband, Gambon, appears, he is similarly consumed with misery, as proceedings take on a dark and mysterious hue. Gambon inhabits his role with equal gusto, but it is Atkins who makes the show.

* All That Fall is at Jermyn Street Theatre in Jermyn Street, SW1, until November 3.

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