Review: all of it, Royal Court Theatre ★★★★☆

Photo: Manuel Harlan


by Jim Keaveney

While tonight’s performance is billed as all of it, the playtest refers to these pieces by the title Three Poems. ‘I call these pieces poems as that’s what they are to me,’ McDowell tell us.

all of it is the final of the three piecesfirst seen in the same venue 2020 in a production that also starred Kate O’Flynn under the direction of Vicky Featherson who also returns. It is preceded by Northleigh, 1940 and In Stereo, both directed by Sam Pritchard, who creates a stunning clausterphobia followed by relief in the latter.

The Beckettian overtones are most obvious in In Stereo and all of it, although McDowell’s pieces are much more accessible. In all of it O’Flynn, all in black and surrounded by darkness, sits on a chair with a microphone, unmoving while she recites the story of her life from the cradle to the unavoidable grave, punctuated with the incessant boring repetition of ‘driving to work, driving to work, driving to work.’ It is hard not to recall Billie Whitelaw’s Not I. Such is the quality of O’Flynn’s performance, a genuine tour-de-force, it feels like it could become an equal statement piece for her.

But there is not only the hand of Samuel Beckett here – the shadow of Alan Bennett is clear in Northleigh, 1940 and In Stereo. Much like Alan Bennett, McDowell finds humour in the monotony of daily life. There are echoes of his Talking Heads pieces, most notably in In Stereo where O’Flynn worrying woman recalls Bennett’s own performance in A Chip in the Sugar in her speech mannerisms.

Even if it is part-Beckett, part-Bennett it is hard to deny it is completely McDowell and it is wonderful for it.

all of it is at the Royal Court Theatre until 17 June