This review is of the show's run in summer 2014.
While we should all feel jolly clever that works as mind-expandingly different as Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ and ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ are mainstays of our theatre canon, don’t be under any illusions: those plays are the great Irish dramatist’s pop songs, his greatest hits, his One Direction years.
This, my friends, is the hard stuff, a trio of challenging, formally experimental monologues written between 1972 and 1980, bundled together into a 55-minute package by director Walter Asmus and the extraordinary performer Lisa Dwan.
Beckett’s estate is famously prickly about letting anybody monkey with the master’s exacting stage directions. But Asmus and Dwan find room for expression. For starters, opener ‘Not I’ – in which a disembodied mouth floating in the dark relates her life story at breakneck speed – gains from both the world record nine minutes in which Dwan rattles it off, and the disorientating total blackness it’s performed in: Dwan’s drifting teeth and tongue are literally the only things you can see in the entire room. It’s the persistency of this darkness – considerably beyond what Beckett called for – that defines the production, seeping into the unsettling ambient interludes between works, giving all three pieces the same sense of being in a limbo outside time and space.
In ‘Footfalls’ a faintly lit Dwan paces the stage metronomically, conversing with, channelling, perhaps even switching with the voice of her mother. In ‘Rockaby’, she sits in a rocking chair picked out by the wanest of lights, occasionally barking at her own recorded voice, which whispers a morbid lullaby.
What does it all mean? All three seem trapped in desperately confined lives – in ‘Not I’ the narrator tries to scream her entire experience out; in ‘Rockaby’ she has come to a complete standstill; in ‘Footfalls’ she appears trapped between selves. But to try and cogently comprehend it all strikes me as a mistake. The staggering speed with which Dwan unleashes ‘Not I’ burns the words and ruptures the language, and surely confirms this as a sensual, sensory experience. The production is precise and technically exacting. But Dwan’s virtuosic performance is not a cerebral one – it’s more primal than that, a dark night of the soul experienced in unnerving triplicate.
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The house lights go down… and stay down.Even the exit signs are snuffed out (hmm, premonitory…).For nearly an hour, the house stays dark and the darkness enfolds and oppresses as, rapt and trapped, we experience three plays about death (or life?*).
Lisa Dwan’s performance is simply stunning (and stunningly simple), from the sprint-feels-like-marathon Not I, through the stultifying Footfalls, to Rockaby’s relentless assertion of the one certainty (other than taxes) that awaits us all.Dwan connects with Every(wo)man through her deeply personal exposition of universality.
The excellent and well-priced text booklet is a must-buy; and this stunning combination of writing, production and performance is a must-see.
*Neither and both of course, silly, this is Beckett
A breath taking experience of theatre! Disturbing, disquieting, hypnotic, & totally absorbing. The production is simple yet precise, it needs to be, the nature of the material is so thought-provoking it leaves one feeling moved in a profound way. The opening play (Not I) requires total darkness, and the warmth of the theatre (Duchess) gives a womb-like sense, but then the monologue is superbly delivered at breakneck speed like a slap in the face. A repeated assault on the senses, for a full 9 minutes.... then silence. One is left suspended during the interval before the eerie presence of the actor manifests like a ghost appearing in front of your eyes. dimly lit, pacing the stage in rhythm (9 paces at a time) as the monologue is softly delivered in a haunting and other-worldly manner. Another break, suspended in time and space before the third and final act(play/Rockaby) A pale shadow of a woman in her rocking chair, delivers a chilling lullaby of a dying mother or self, it isn't clear. It 'could' be so many things, a march through time, an ode to her own life/death, or ...? Then the end....... We sat after the event, shattered and spent, not sure how or what to feel, say or think...... It seemed to be an experience of theatre more than any other, participation is essential or one could just miss the whole point... if there ever was one?