Cascando – Samuel Beckett Theatre – Review by Shane Larkin
19 – 23 April 2016
“From one world to another, it’s as though they grew together” intones Cascando’s Opener (Daniel Reardon), as words and music converse and coalesce in pursuit of an unreachable goal; a story to end all others. Following ‘All That Fall’ and ‘Embers’, Pan Pan Theatre delve further inward with this one, the third of Beckett’s radio plays to be subject to their singular hybridisation of performance and installation. The intense subjectivity of the individual’s experience here is what sets ‘Cascando’ apart from the others, and though it’s not as resounding a success as their previous attempts, it’s a thoroughly unique theatrical experience.
The experience is a difficult one to describe. As you walk into the foyer of the Samuel Beckett Theatre, there’s a smattering of people spread around, casually chatting, wearing long black robes and headphones around their necks. You haven’t taken a wrong turn and stumbled backstage, these are just your fellow audience members. You don your robe, you take off your shoes (be wary of this one and avoid my own lack of forethought, lest you too decide to wear your Chewbacca socks on the day and have to share that fact with your fellow theatre patrons), and you get your head phones and personal audio device clipped on. It’s through this device that you will hear the pre-recorded performance. Then you line up at the entrance, director Gavin Quinn gives a brief introduction and safety notice, and you shuffle one-by-one into a specially constructed space that’s something like a darkened maze.
At first, the whole thing feels a bit problematic. There’s some robe-stepping, some toe-stubbing, some wrong turns taken, some bumping into walls, or the person in front of you, and the feeling might be a little disconcerting beyond what’s intended. It’ll vary from person to person but at first it feels like too much is being imposed on the material, and on the listener. That there’s too much potential for distraction. And yet, this passes quite quickly. After a certain point, your eyes adjust to the lighting, and everyone settles into a sort of meditative groove. The whole aesthetic and approach to the material starts to make sense as you amble along with your hooded companions, wandering the dark and labyrinthine annals of a restless mind in the midst of creation.
There’s no real plot to speak of but there are ostensibly three characters; Voice (Andrew Bennett), Music and the aforementioned Opener. Voice alternates between narrating the journey of his protagonist, Woburn, as it drifts into abstract impression, and talking about the telling of the story itself, the interminable longing to reach its end (“if you could finish it….you could rest”). Music interjects like a half-remembered funeral dirge, and Opener determines the structural form, opening and closing, separating and bringing together these two modes of expression like a mind in a state of perpetual disintegration. There is that constant Beckettian sense of beckoning finality, the feeling is one of walking indefinitely into the infinite unknown. Aedín Cosgrove’s lighting choices are spare and subtle but very effective, breathing eerie life info her set and often mingling with Jimmy Eadie’s intimate sound design at just the right time, creating moments of surreal, organic beauty and an atmosphere that feels otherworldly.
Not only is this unlike any other trip to the theatre you’re likely to take, but each subsequent performance is going to yield different experiences. You might want to take the plunge a second time. And if it doesn’t quite offer the same existential gut-punch as their previous forays into the liminal haze of Beckett’s worlds it’s mainly because of the unwieldy abstractions of the play itself, and because the essence of this one in particular depends so strongly on its being non-visual. It’s an undeniably ambitious undertaking, and Pan Pan deserve countless commendations for dusting off these sometimes forgotten treasures and imbuing them with such inventive vitality.