‘A voice comes to one in the dark. Imagine’: radio, the listener and the dark comedy of all that fall
Barfield, Stephen, Feldman, Matthew and Tew, Philip (eds.)
Beckett and Death.
(Continuum Literary Studies, 2002).
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This chapter will explore Samuel Beckett’s first foray into radio drama, All That Fall (1957), and with particular reference to what gives the play a special place in his oeuvre. The significant points to be addressed here are the possibilities and the limitations offered by radio drama, as well as the way in which radio drama is able to present journeys, as opposed to the theatre, wherein movement is generally restricted to the stage space in front of its audience. Radio drama is thus able to present extensive movement both effectively and economically. A related issue is the ghostliness inherent in radio plays, which stems from the fact that it has only sound and silence. While the lack of visual imagery can be seen as restricting and confining, paradoxically this apparent shortcoming is made to work in powerful ways by Beckett, who harnessed the many possibilities offered by this very limitation. Moreover, the very solidity and definition of visual imagery works against the ghostliness and insubstantial qualities of the characters and situations for which Beckett is aiming. All That Fall is also unique in Beckett’s oeuvre in that it represents the first time he unmistakeably made reference to a lecture at the Tavistock Clinic given by Carl Jung that he attended with his therapist Wilfred Bion in 1935 in London. This lecture was to have a strong effect on Beckett’s subsequent writing, and contributes to the play’s themes of journeys as well as the ghostly quality of the imagined setting and characters.
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