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Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Beckett’

This was trailed as Caryl Churchill’s first full-length play in over 20 years. It isn’t. It’s another obtuse 50 minute miniature. Apart from providing work for four excellent 60/70-something actresses, it’s hard to see what else it contributes. It’s feint praise to say it’s a better than her last ‘miniature’, Here We Go, at the National last year (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/here-we-go-evening-at-the-talk-house).

Mrs Jarrett pops into Sally’s garden when she’s passing. She joins Sally, making inconsequential small-talk with Lena & Vi about the local shops and a whole host of other things; typical old people stuff, looking back (I should know!). We return to the garden with the same four ladies in a row, in chairs, a number of times. In between, Mrs Jarrett appears stage front, framed by red tubes and crackling wire, to tell us about some catastrophes, which become increasingly implausible (and tiresome) as they progress. We learn that Lena has served six years for killing her husband. They sing Da Doo Ron Ron. Sally and Lena each have a bit of a monologue and Mrs Jarrett ends the play with a bit of a rant, repeating the same phrase over and over again – the verbal equivalent of the undressing at the end of Here We Go, but mercifully shorter. 

I’m not entirely sure what Churchill is trying to say; perhaps that we carry on regardless or oblivious of the catastrophes happening around us and / or what it’s like growing old. Playwrights often become minimalist in their later years (Beckett, Pinter…) yet they continue to occupy their place on a pedestal. I sometimes think they have lost their mojo but no-one has the nerve to say so. After 20 years of plays like this I think that’s where I’m at with Caryl Churchill and I think it’s time I gave up hoping for a return to the form that gave us plays like Serious Money.

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Continuing my never ending, and I suspect pointless, search to understand Beckett with the Sydney Theatre Company’s Waiting for Godot at the Barbican Theatre just six weeks after seeing their Endgame in Sydney, also with Hugo Weaving. At three hours, it’s my longest Godot, but it’s also probably the best.

Each production finds something different and this one is funnier and crueler. It’s set in some huge abandoned industrial landscape. Vladimir and Estragon pass the time over two days waiting for Godot, interrupted only by two visits from the blind Pozzo and his dumb ‘slave’ Lucky and two from a boy bringing a message from Godot that he won’t make it until tomorrow. They feel a sense of achievement when they fill time successfully and a sense of hopelessness when they don’t. The attempted diversions are many, but time still drags them down. We see the warmth of companionship and friendship along the way, but pointlessness and despair predominate.

There is much more physicality to the performances, whether it be the pantomime of removing and replacing shoes, changing hats, falling down and picking themselves and others up or the poor treatment of Lucky. They use the vastness of the stage well, but occasionally sit on the front providing intimate moments too. It’s funnier but it’s also more desperate. It seemed more full of contradictions, more expansive and more poignant. Director Andrew Upton suggests it’s creation was particularly collaborative as he had to take the helm at a late stage and somehow you really felt that.

Unlike The Elephant Man last week, but like Endgame six weeks ago, this is no star vehicle. A lot of people are clearly there for Weaving, and he doesn’t disappoint, but they get four fine performances and a much better, if obtuse, play. I’m used to seeing Philip Quast in musicals, so its a treat to see him give such a terrific performance as Pozzo. Richard Roxburgh is Weaving’s equal and the chemistry between them is palpable. Luke Mullins makes so much of Lucky, lurching around the stage and almost falling off twice.

For once my front row cheap seat was a bonus, giving me a close-up view of such thrilling acting. I’m not that much wiser, but it was a theatrical feast nonetheless.

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Playwright Enda Walsh has always been a bit, well more than a bit, Beckettian, but here he has ‘created’ (you can’t really say ‘wrote’) an odd, absurd, surreal ‘piece’ (you can’t really say ‘play’) that’s fully fledged Beckett, in spirit if not restraint. It was a very long 100 minutes and having invested that much of my life in it I’m disinclined to invest a lot more reviewing it. I’ve seen a handful of Walsh’s plays since Disco Pigs in 1997 and it really is a trajectory much like Beckett; diminishing returns. I think this might be my last.

The only reason for seeing it is two virtuoso performances from Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi – but it comes at a price. For the first 20-30 mins I was intrigued and fascinated, but that soon turned to irritation and then to boredom and eventually to fantasies of a gin & tonic in the comfort of my own home. For some inexplicable reason, though I had not connected with the piece emotionally, the conclusion was like a wave of sadness blowing from the Lyttleton stage.

Two men race around the stage dressing and undressing, throwing things (and themselves) around, making a mess, uttering seemingly meaningless dialogue and generally getting on your tits. They appeared to be in some death waiting room and we eventually meet the grim reaper, Stephen Rea, a cool-as-cucumber chain smoker who appears to suggest only one of them come forward. Ballyturk seems to be a place outside – we hear voices of the residents, there appear to be drawings of them on the back wall (which get darts thrown at them) and our two protagonists may be impersonating them occasionally. Who knows? Who cares?

Jamie Vartan’s set includes mysteries like inaccessible cupboards and draws, a cuckoo clock with a life of its own, a kitchenette in one corner and a shower(ette) in the other and a back wall that lifts and lowers to reveal Stephen Rea’s character in his world. It gets well and truly roughed up. Walsh also directs, so there’s no-one else to blame. The two lead actors give it their all, but for me that isn’t enough.

If this is what it’s like inside an Irish brain, I’m glad I’m Welsh!

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This was the first Beckett play I ever saw; 35 years ago, before I left Bristol for London. I’ve seen it three times since (including this one) but it’s one of those plays where your first time will probably never be repeated. A tour de force for an actress – for me June Barrie, Rosaleen Linehan, Fiona Shaw & now Juliet Stevenson – it’s still, somewhat astonishingly, more radical than anything else current.

Winnie spends the first act buried up to her waist and the second up to her neck. In previous productions, it has been a free-standing mound; in Vicki Mortimer’s striking design there is a cliff behind and an occasional light avalanche of scree. It glistens a little like gold in the bright lighting. Though we also see and hear Winnie’s husband Willie occasionally, it’s a virtual monologue as she empties her handbag and obsessively lays out its contents, including a gun, in front of her. The dialogue seems pointless, with more than a touch of sexual innuendo, though nothing is ever pointless in Beckett, just obtuse.

In this production, the contrast between the light(ish) first act and the somewhat bleak second act is greater than I remember. Winnie seemed louder and more shrill, particularly when she is barking instructions at Willie. The infamous bell has become a loud buzz. They stay frozen in character at the end as the audience applaud, presumably until we’ve all left the auditorium. This is my first exposure to director Natalie Abrahami and she makes as much impact as her former Gate colleague Carrie Cracknell did with A Dool’s House here last year.

It probably isn’t the best I’ve seen, but it’s great to see it one more time and Juliet Stevenson makes the role her own. David Beames has to take a back seat, well hole, until his big moment in the light, dressed to kill as it were, or as it maybe, at the end.

Still ground-breaking after all these years.

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I’ve seen all three of these very short one-woman plays, but 31 years apart with three different actresses in three different theatres. Back in 1982, Billie Whitelaw in the UK premiere of Rockaby at the NT’s Cottesloe, in 1994 Fiona Shaw in Footfalls (diverting from Beckets strict instructions) at the Garrick and just last year Not I here at the Royal Court with tonight’s actress Lisa Dwan. Seeing all three together in an hour, with darkness and silence in between, was a very different and somewhat overwhelming experience.

In Not I you just see a mouth spouting a stream of consciousness at a manic pace. The woman is looking back on four episodes in her life. In Footfalls May is pacing (nine at a time) outside her mother’s bedroom, holding a conversation with her in between. In Rockaby an old woman sits in a chair which seems to rock of its own accord whilst we hear her recorded voice reminisce. In between, the auditorium stays in complete darkness and the audience in silence (thankfully), though there is a gentle quiet soundscape to suggest the evening continues.

It’s a trance-like occasion, where the experience predominates over the meaning. You are mesmerised by the performances, work to understand what the plays are about, laugh occasionally. There are moments of poignancy; its mysterious and highly atmospheric. It’s an experience, a unique experience. Lisa Dwan is terrific, particularly in the first play.

It’s extraordinary that these plays, written in a 7-year period 32-44 years ago can still surprise, shock, intrigue and captivate. Whatever you think of them, you have to accept that Beckett was a true original and you’ve never seen and probably never will see anything else like this.

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I had to be talked into spending over £2 per minute on Beckett’s monologue Not I, but I was very glad I did.

All you see in the pitch blackness is a mouth and all you hear is a stream of consciousness that’s hard to keep up with, but it’s poetic, musical & mesmerising – and a rather exhausting 9 minutes! Lisa Dwan’s performance is extraordinary, and when you learn at the post-show Q&A how she is blindfolded and strapped in, it’s even more impressive.

It’s the Q&A with Dwan, Beckett’s biographer and friend Jim Knowlson and retired critic Benedict Nightingale plus film of Billie Whitelaw talking about her relationship with the role and with Beckett that makes the evening an excellent experience all round and I ended up feeling I’d had reasonable value for my £20!

A rare theatrical event.

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A man in tails under a spotlight in a black space reading extracts from a book for 50 minutes isn’t the most enticing prospect…..but the book is Samuel Beckett’s Watt and the man is Barry McGovern.

Watt was written during the second world war when Beckett was in the French resistance. Like all of his work, your brain works overtime trying to understand it, but I’m not sure understanding it is the point here. You bathe in the beauty of the language as the protagonist undertakes his journey. It plays with language itself – there are a lot of lists & riffs on the title. It’s often funny and always captivating.

McGovern has a deep rich voice that you could listen to for a lot longer than 50 minutes and a particularly expressive face which brings the character alive – this is Watt himself, live, here on stage, telling you his story.

I’m not normally one for monologues; I’ve never been convinced they belong in a theatre or on a screen. Books, yes. Audio, yes. Here, though, if you aren’t distracted by the need to analyse, interpret or even understand and allow it all to wash over you, you too may be hypnotised by mere words beautifully spoken

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