Title and Deed
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Conor Lovett impresses as a man outside society in Will Eno's Beckettian monologue.
‘I’m not from here’, a man tells us. And he’s audibly not: he’s Irish performer Conor Lovett of acclaimed theatre company Gare St Lazare. ‘I guess I never will be’, he continues. He’s an outsider, as the play’s subtitle, ‘monologue for a slightly foreign man’, informs us.
Not very foreign: he’s a native English speaker and he’s dressed for invisibility, with an everyday blue suit jacket and carrying a bag full of everyday items. He speaks with an unusual tentativeness, as if he’s unsure of what we’ll make of him, or if he should be speaking to us at all.
A celebrated interpreter of Beckett, Lovett here performs a monologue by US playwright Will Eno that must have been written for his unnerving but compelling acting style. He vibrates like a taut catgut string to the audience’s presence, noting every unintentional cough or shuffle with a perturbed raise of his eyebrows.
It’s Lovett’s balancing of the banal with the utterly peculiar that gives his performances their power, and it’s perfectly matched by a monologue that circles around nothing much in particular, yet gradually sketches quite a haunting image of the outsiders in our midst, of our own capacity for shutting out or finding fault in those different to us or alien to our conveniences.
The Man carries a stick and an empty lunch box in his bag, and Eno dares us to find a comparison between Christ in the wasteland and this gawky wanderer. He rifles through commonplaces of speech and language as if he’s checking for loose parts or loose change, his broken aphorisms as dry as a rattlebag. His diagnosis for life echoes Beckett’s own image of birth ‘astride a grave’: ‘Good morning, world; maybe I should be a veterinarian or an oceanographer. Maybe I’ll marry a princess. Thump.’ It’s mordant humour, when it’s humour at all.
Eno risks losing his own voice in this ghostly lovesong to Beckett, and Lovett is not a comfortable performer to spend an hour with. But as well as its achievement in the higher and dustier realms of language and ontology, ‘Title and Deed’ is a disturbing psalm to the lost and the homeless, to those who are barred, temporarily or in perpetuity, from the best parts of the world.