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Dwan’s performance is inspired in No’s Knife at The Old Vic

Lisa Dwan in No's Knife
Lisa Dwan in No’s Knife – By Perry Ogden

Earlier this year Wilton’s put on a production of Samuel Beckett’s radio play All That Fall (later to transfer to The Arts Theatre). The audience were given blindfolds as they entered the auditorium in order to counter the fact that there were actors on stage and help the audience concentrate on the words rather than the action. This same device could have been used for No’s Knife as apart from the start where a video was projected on a large screen of Lisa Dwan floating around a viscous liquid and at the end with her effects microphone turned off, she walks to the stage apron to make her final speech. In between, there are four short scenes one where the actress is wedged in a crevice in a rock, one whilst suspended in the air on a gilded swing and two scenes set in a rocky, post-apocalyptic barren landscape.

The play is in fact adapted from Beckett’s Textes Pour Rien (“Texts For Nothing”) which were written as prose and were never meant to be dramatized but that’s what Dwan and co-director Joe Murphy have done. To say Becket’s writing is dense is an understatement. Dwan hardly has time for breath as she pours out thousands of words written in typical Beckett style. She takes on a multitude of personalities to become an old man (her father?), a child and numerous other characters often changing in mid-sentence – and she’s so adept at it, it seems she sometimes changes voices mid-word! Dwan is a force of nature and she keeps the audience riveted for the entire seventy minutes.

So what is this enigmatic piece about? There are a number of theories that could be put forward – is she in heaven, in hell or possibly in limbo – a word used during the play. Is it about something specific or nothing – after all the original works were called “Texts for Nothing” – a theme of much of Beckett’s work. Is she the last person on earth after the apocalypse – after all the landscape in two of the scenes is barren and arid and at the end, the character is bloodied, covered in mud and her clothes are torn and tattered and she seems so alone. I’m sure that the creators want the audience to have their own thoughts on what the piece is trying to say and they certainly seemed to have achieved this judging by the comments as the audience left the theatre.

And talking of the audience, this was the quietest I’ve heard from an audience of over 1000 people for a long, long time. Audiences today are rightly criticised for their eating, drinking, opening noisy sweets etc. whilst in the theatre but when Dwan was on-stage, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop and even coughing was confined to scene changes.

Dwan’s performance is inspired and award nominations will certainly be coming her way but it’s a difficult piece to concentrate on even though it’s not very long. The words tumble out of her mouth like machine gun bullets and whilst they’re poetic and rhythmic, there’s a lot to process and it makes for a quite demanding evening but on the whole, one worth making the effort to see.

Three and a half gold stars

Review by Alan Fitter

Where would I go, if I could go, who would I be, if I could be, what would I say, if I had a voice, who says this, saying it’s me?
The world premiere of No’s Knife sees Samuel Beckett, a titan of theatrical writing, exploring the powerful resilience to stay alive. Hard on the heels of a sold-out international tour of the Beckett Trilogy, Lisa Dwan presents a fresh and penetrating interpretation of this monologue. Recognised as modern theatre’s foremost adaptor of Beckett’s work, Lisa brings her unexpected and compelling voice to these hitherto unperformed writings

No’s Knife
Old Vic Theatre
103 The Cut, London, SE1 8NB
Booking From 
29th September 2016
Booking Until 15th October 2016



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