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Beckett Triple Bill at Jermyn Street Theatre | Review

Beckett Triple Bill (Eh Joe) - Niall Buggy (Joe) at Jermyn Street Theatre. Credit to Robert Workman.
Beckett Triple Bill (Eh Joe) – Niall Buggy (Joe) at Jermyn Street Theatre. Credit Robert Workman.

It was one of those press nights where a couple of minor hiccups (so negligible, in the grand scheme of things, that they are really not worth providing too many details about) resulted in an audience being all the more supportive of the production and its actors. It’s rather pleasant when things turn out like that. In this trilogy of Samuel Beckett’s (1906-1989) short plays – there are many more, of course – each appears to be as absurdist as one another. Although the narratives are very different there are themes in common, most notably older men looking back over the decades gone past.

Krapp’s Last Tape is the most well-performed of the three plays – a production took place as recently as the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe. It works well in the studio space of the Jermyn Street Theatre, as every single movement and detail (stipulated by Beckett) is easily seen in a smaller auditorium. Krapp (James Hayes) offers no unequivocal indication that he is indeed recording his ‘final’ tape, and one is left wondering whether ‘last’ really means ‘most recent’. The set is not much to speak of – and therefore there is a reliance on the text coming to life. Most of it comes in the form of pre-recorded material: Eh Joe, the second play, relies entirely on a pre-recorded voice for its spoken lines. In both plays a man sits, alone, and contemplates what happened previously.

Eh Joe was originally written for television, and the production does well to retain the essence of Beckett’s directions, with a camera gradually moving in closer and closer to Joe’s (Niall Buggy) face. As close observers of Beckett’s work will tell you, there are nine ‘movements’ in total. All the audience sees is Joe sat on his bed, as The Voice (Lisa Dwan), in a relatively deadpan manner, tells the story of some sort of a relationship between Joe and The Voice – Joe is increasingly dislikeable as more and more details come to light.

But one is never quite sure, particularly as it is a single-perspective story, how much of it ‘actually’ happened, and – more pertinently – whether it all happened in the manner described. The facial expressions result in some highly skilled acting – it’s far from going back to the exaggerations of the silent movie era, but again, the attention to detail is exquisite. Is it self-torture of the mind? Does Joe have The Voice carping on at him on a regular basis, or is this a one-off event? As with other Beckett plays, much is open to interpretation.

There is a little more humour in The Old Tune, which reunites long-term friends Gorman (also Buggy) and Cream (David Threlfall). Some of it is more than a tad stereotypical, with complaints about the young, as well as disagreements about locations and place names which mostly arise as a result of failing memory in old age. (The irony is not lost on this discerning audience that the actors have learnt every line between them.)

While each of the plays take their time, The Old Tune covers the most ground as the two characters catch up and talk about (almost) everything from their respective families to cigarettes. This is certainly not going to be to everyone’s liking, but those who enjoy Beckett’s better-known works such as Endgame and Waiting For Godot are very likely to find some gems here. A wonderfully performed and exquisitely directed production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

In Krapp’s Last Tape, starring James Hayes, Krapp prepares to celebrate his 69th birthday by recording his annual tape. But first, Krapp pulls out an old tape recording, made on his 39th birthday – a recording which recalls an even earlier tape, made in Krapp’s youth.

Eh Joe features the voice of the celebrated Beckett specialist, Lisa Dwan, as she provokes and jokes with the ageing Joe, played by Irish film and theatre star, Niall Buggy.

The Old Tune is a rarely performed gem, adapted by Beckett from a radio play by Robert Pinget. With echoes of Waiting for Godot, two elderly men sit on a bench and reminisce. But are their memories playing tricks? Starring Niall Buggy and David Threlfall.

2020 Season

Krapp’s Last Tape
Eh Joe
The Old Tune
Directed by TREVOR NUNN
Set and costume design by Louie Whitemore
Sound design by Max Pappenheim
Associate direction by Cat Robey

Wednesday 15th January to Saturday 8th February 2020

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