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Posts Tagged ‘Ben Ormerod’

Jermyn Street Theatre regularly punches above its 70-seat weight. Even in lockdown, it’s productivity and performance (during its own crisis following flooding!) has been exemplary, leading to The Stage’s Fringe Theatre of the Year Award. Amongst its achievements in the last ten years have been three of the best Beckett evenings I’ve had in 40 years of theatre-going in London – this is the third – involving two Dames and a Knight, two directed by the former AD of both the RSC & RNT.

I saw the now infamous production of Footfalls with Fiona Shaw at the Garrick Theatre in 1995, infamous because it only ran 6 days after the Beckett estate took exception to Deborah Warner’s departure from Becket’s sequence of words and stage directions. The independent theatre critic described this as declaring a fatwa on the production! In this short piece, May’s 90-year-old mother is dying. She paces back and forth, 9 steps visually and audibly in each direction outside her room, visibly upset, whilst the ghostly recorded voice of her mother speaks to her, initially responding to questions from May, then direct to the audience, then in the third person about her. Between each a bell rings.

I was lucky enough to see the UK premiere of Rockaby, at the then Cottesloe Theatre in 1982, with Becket’s muse Billie Whitelaw. I think it was only the second Becket play I’d seen, the first ‘miniature’, and it was mesmerising. In this short piece, a woman sits in her rocking chair listening to her own recorded voice, ghostly. It rocks but she doesn’t appear to be creating the movement. When the voice stops, she says ‘more’ and it resumes, until she appears to die.

The whole evening is little more than 40 minutes, but the combination of poetry, atmospheric staging & design and delicate, beautiful performances by Charlotte Emerson and Sian Philips is captivating. It’s been wonderful seeing Sian Phillips’ late career gems – her extraordinary collaboration with physical theatre masters Frantic Assembly in Lovesong, her hypnotic presence in Les Blancs at the NT and a ‘return home’ with Under Milk Wood, also at the NT.

As always with Beckett, lighting and sound are as important as set and costumes and Ben Ormerod and Adrienne Quartly’s inputs combine with Simon Kenny’s monochrome set and costumes to serve both pieces very well. Richard Beecham’s staging of both plays is flawless.

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