What struck me first and foremost was the stage, considerably lower than the seats in the auditorium at the Coronet (the one in Notting Hill, as opposed to the one in Elephant and Castle). The staging is minimalist, as is the dramatis personae, with Conor Lovett having the stage to himself, save a couple of benches, playing a character not named in the programme, nor, as far as I recall, in the narrative.
The End, to add to Lovett’s challenges (and that of director Judy Hegarty Lovett: the pair make a husband and wife team), was never written to be performed, but published as a short story to be read. There are, therefore, no stage directions from Samuel Beckett, or any indication as to how certain words and phrases should be emphasised or delivered. But we hear all of the original story, and I don’t just mean that all the events of the story feature in exactly the same order. I mean to say that every word from the original short story is used as the script for this show.
It is not, rightly, thus categorically not billed as an adaptation, though a case in favour of it being one can be argued. The intense focus on one character, who, for the sake of argument, I will simply call The Man (because that’s what he is, a man) allows the audience an insight into someone in the final stage of a long life, hence the title. It is altogether deep and philosophical while maintaining a very human and down-to- earth side to The Man, demonstrating the sheer skill of Beckett’s writing, appropriately brought to life in this absorbing performance.
What initially happens to The Man may come across as rather shocking to a modern audience, particularly in these days of social security and community care, and yet as the story goes on there’s the other side of the same coin: The Man would like to be left alone, and his wishes are respected, and therefore he is respected. I wonder what The Man would have thought of today’s welfare state!
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There are, perhaps unexpectedly, moments of wit and humour (though I’m not sure why it caught me unawares, as this is Beckett, after all), as The Man seemingly unwittingly indulges in observational comedy – if you would like the details, all you need to do is to obtain a copy of The End and it’s all there.
This multi-layered and fascinating story says a lot about the human condition on both an individual and collective level, and staged with so much emphasis on Beckett’s prose, this production does the original text justice.
Those who like single performer shows will love The End, told both plainly and profoundly, with no props or distractions from a relentless but steadily paced narrative. It’s a tour de force performance from Conor Lovett, utterly holding my attention from start to finish. As I say, this show was never written to be performed. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be – and thanks to this production, I’m very glad it has been.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Print Room at the Coronet and Gare St Lazare Ireland present
BECKETT IN LONDON
A festival of Beckett’s prose on stage featuring theatre, music and visual art
To celebrate Samuel Beckett’s work, Print Room at the Coronet and the international, award-winning company and unparalleled Beckett champions, Gare St Lazare Ireland, present a three-week festival exploring Samuel Beckett’s prose across the disciplines of theatre, music and visual art from 17th May – 5th June 2016.
At The Print Room at the Coronet
103 Notting Hill Gate, London W11 3LB
The End – 17th May 2016 – directed by Judy Hegarty, featuring actor Conor Lovett
Here All Night – 21st May 2016 – music and text by Samuel Beckett, and original score by Paul Clark
Hello, Sam – 23rd May 2016 – an audio visual installation by artist Brian O’Doherty
All texts by Samuel Beckett were written intended to be read and are presented by arrangement with Curtis Brown Group with the kind permission of The Estate of Samuel Beckett.