All Of It

Alistair McDowall
Royal Court Theatre
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs

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In Stereo with actor Kate O’Flynn Credit: Manuel Harlan
Kate O’Flynn in Northleigh 1940 Credit: Manuel Harlan
Kate O’Flynn in All Of It Credit: Manuel Harlan

The forty-minute monologue All Of It was first performed at the Royal Court in 2020, just a month before a COVID lockdown. It now accompanies two other monologues in a hundred-minute show which must be in the running for the most doom-laden performance of the 21st century. Melancholy, isolation, death and grief dominate each of the short pieces.

The constrictions of COVID may have been the creative context for the production, but the expression is a much narrower and private representation in the form of Kate O’Flynn intensely reflecting on each character's life. Remembering the massive tumble of words is a remarkable achievement for any actor and she does so with a fine sensitivity.

However, it’s not easy listening. The language can at moments be abstract and difficult, suddenly changing its syntax and delivery, shifting from, say, a grand, slightly macabre opening that begins with the words, “alone, on ashen sands that yearned beyond all measure known in realms familiar,” to, ten minutes later, the more colloquial account of a young woman who, “had enough to buy her own gramophone so she didn’t have to use the one downstairs.”

Grief over the death of a family member is central to each piece. In Northleigh 1940, a daughter is finding it difficult to talk to her dad about the death of her mother, to the point that she goes to work earlier and comes back later to avoid conversations. She is also planning to move out. She tells her dad this as they chat in the tiny caged confines of the Morrison shelter as they wait for a possible bombing by Germany.

The much shorter piece In Stereo consists of the voice-over of a woman lying in bed worrying about a stain on the wall she has been trying to clean. Hearing a noise downstairs, she investigates and is reassured to find it is herself watching the flickering screen of a television. There is a section where both talk to themselves at the same time. Although initially puzzled that she has become pieces, she returns to her bed admitting that “I wasn't concerned that I seemed to be in two places at once.”

Shortly after this, her other self climbs into bed behind her, but she is still worrying about that stain which seems to be growing larger. Soon she becomes part of the stain telling us, “I used to be a house, I am the wall now.” But even walls don’t last forever.

All Of It is the most ambitious of the three pieces, taking us from birth to what might be the end of life of one woman that includes birthdays, Xmas, a first kiss, a lot of “driving to work” and worries about a troubled brother. It could be happening almost anywhere in the last hundred years. It isn't even difficult to predict the sequence of what happens or how it ends.

The text of the show is laid out like a poem, making various patterns on the page and always aiming for a particular lyrical sound and a mood of gloomy melancholy, grief and occasional guilt about the death of a significant other.

The whole thing seems to reflect a COVID tone of apocalyptic isolation without any reference to COVID or any other social issue. It is as if the world, society and everything else have vanished, leaving the final person a woman to die sad, exhausted and alone.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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