all of it Review

Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs – until 17th June 2023

Reviewed by Ben Jolly


The aptly titled, all of it was previously seen at the Royal Court back in February 2020, written by Alistair McDowall and starring Kate O’Flynn in the one woman play where we witness an entire life in 45 minutes; from birth to death, the story of baby to old lady (and everything in between… “Driving to work”) is presented to us in a highly stylised poetic form.

With the same title, the piece has been expanded upon with two more monologues that were written specifically for O’Flynn during 2020. Despite the fact that from first glance the three parts of the play do not feel connected in any way shape or form, there are subtle moments that with a keen eye and ear you can understand the connective narration tying the pieces together as one. As McDowall puts it, “Plays often emerge when you realise two things you’d thought separate are actually one and the same.”

The first poem of the night is Northleigh, 1940 and we open with an eerie, other worldly and yet strikingly beautiful sight, created by designer Merle Hensel and with lighting by Elliot Griggs. The opening feels like the playwright is parodying their own material with the heightened fantastical language that is largely attributed to their previous body of work, McDowall creates a sense of fear and thrill; and within the first two minutes we understand that the rule book has well and truly been thrown out of the window for tonight!

Kate O’Flynn hits the ground running in her solo venture. She performs with such command of the language and has the ability to grab the audience’s attention with just the slightest nuance. Her palatable presence parades the stage and she owns the night with her humour and raw delivery. O’Flynn is mesmerising.

We delve further into this naturally unnatural world with the even more off the wall piece, In Stereo in which, through the impressive use of video design by Lewis den Hertog and sound artist/composer Melanie Wilson create a completely disturbing and haunting universe. With an overindulgence of the senses, we at times don’t know where to look or which voice to tune into and thus are bombarded to the point of sheer frustration – a thrilling time indeed!

For the denouement, we come full circle and back to experience all of it. Vicky Featherstone has taken the helm to direct for the second time, succeeding Sam Pritchard who directed the first two poems of the night. There is an initial sense of discomfort with a complete change in set, lighting, sound and performance by O’Flynn, we’re in yet another world, another part of McDowall’s mind and we are taken on the journey of someone else’s lifetime.

It is here when the pieces of the puzzle come together and we start to see the bigger picture. It’s such a harrowing notion to conceive that a life can be summed up in a mere 45-minute monologue, and yet after this short time it feels as though we have known this woman her whole life. Can we all be summed up this simply and neatly? Are our lives really taken up so much with the mundane tasks…? “Driving to work”… I don’t believe that this is all McDowall is trying to say, but the third and final poem does bring up the question… is that all of it?