Play Reading: "All That Fall"

All That Fall
by Samuel Beckett

All That Fall is a one-act radio play by Samuel Beckett. "All That Fall manages to develop a highly dynamic genre in radio drama through a multi-layered script, which can be read as tragicomedy , a murder mystery, a cryptic literary riddle or a quasi-musical score." It’s said that, death is no joking matter. The thing is, with Beckett it is and this play is crammed full of references to it. The play’s setting is realistic enough and the characters too, if a little grotesque, but hardly anyone’s life has not rubbed shoulders with Death, from the unfortunate hen mowed down by Slocum’s car to the poor child thrown from the train. It is the dominant theme but far from the only one.

The trip there: this is the first work by Beckett where a woman is the central character. In this case it is a gritty, "overwhelmingly capacious" outspoken, Irish septuagenarian, Maddy Rooney, plagued by "rheumatism and childlessness".

The opening scene finds Maddy trudging down a country road towards the station. It’s her husband’s birthday. She moves with difficulty. At each stage of the journey the technology she encounters advances, but despite this each means of locomotion is beset by problems, foreshadowing the problem with the train.

The station: at the station Slocum calls on the porter for assistance to extricate his passenger. Unusually the train is late. The noise of the station builds to a crescendo but it is an anticlimax; it is the oft-mentioned up mail. Maddy panics. She can’t find her husband. On her journey to the station Maddy only had to compete with one person at a time, each an old man. Now she is faced with a crowd.

The walk home: the weather is worsening. The thought of getting home spurs them on. Something Dan says reminds Maddy of a visit she once made to hear "a lecture by one of these new mind doctors". What she heard there was the story of a patient the doctor had failed to cure a young girl who was dying, and "did in fact die, shortly after he had washed his hands of her." The third section of the play returns Maddy to the relative calm of the walk home.

(adapted from Wikipedia)