First Love

Theatre, Off-West End
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Acclaimed Irish actor Conor Lovett performs a dark Samuel Beckett monologue.

In ‘First love’, one of Samuel Beckett’s archetypal graveyard fools gives his version of a love story: a meeting with a prostitute on a park bench, followed by a short and squalid marriage and a cruel departure back to the bent-double wanderings of life. ‘First Love’ is a short story apparently intended for performance, spun into a swaying, sneering monologue by acclaimed Beckett interpreter Conor Lovett.

Our narrator sniffs around cemeteries, preferring the sweet scents of the dead – even his decaying father – to the sour odours of the living. His language is familiarly Beckett: an eloquence of stained sheets and chamber pots, with a gimlet eye for the oddities and falsities of language.

Ireland was the location of his ‘unsuccessful abortion’, as he describes his birth, and the pitiful relationship he hacks out here like a gob of phlegm is a catalogue of deflated vigour and sexuality. His comforts are a piss-bucket and a parsnip, like some proto-Sarah Lucas sculpture, ridden with rusty Freudian symbolism.

It’s a gorgeously filthy story, and not a widely known one, and there’s a pure pleasure in hearing it performed with such wit and intelligence. Lovett is an unpredictable performer, and there are passages here where his sudden halts and ruthless acknowledgement of his audience – pausing at every cough or shuffle – begin to feel uncomfortably like uncertainty with the text.

It’s also a relentlessly sardonic 80 minutes, and hence a rather unforgiving experience for more casual viewers. It’s by the Beckett club, for the Beckett club, but if you’re a paid-up member, you won’t want to miss it.



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