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Footfalls and Play by Samuel Beckett at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Footfalls and Play
Footfalls and Play

Play comes first in a double-bill called Footfalls and Play, and as the audience continues to file in, a slightly disturbing sound wafts over the theatre’s speakers – several voices are whispering simultaneously. Just as well that this is one of those pub theatres where the audience doesn’t take their seats until minutes before the curtain rises. Three large grey urns face the audience, each containing, from stage right to stage left, Woman 1 (Rose Trustman), Man (Ricky Zalman) and Woman 2 (Samantha Kamras).

The play’s lines are often delivered very briskly, and sometimes in a rather wooden manner, though it is clear that this is intentional. A brief instruction from Samuel Beckett towards the end of the script reads simply: “Repeat play.” And so, this production does exactly that – indeed the audience is either treated or subjected to three rounds of the same story. To avoid spoilers, I will say only this about the narrative: it’s about an affair. Man says, in a deadpan manner, “Adulterers – take warning. Never admit.

Of course, this being Beckett, it’s not as easy as that. If anything, it’s a feat of technical brilliance – the stage directions stipulate that each character speaks only when the spotlight shines on them and stops when it goes out. Accordingly, there are moments when the lights are on them all, resulting in three people speaking at once, none of it intelligible from my vantage point in the audience. A note of clarification from the production team makes clear stage manager Francesca Coleman operates the lighting (quite flawlessly at the performance I attended), and from what I can deduce from the rest of the note, the lighting board was programmed by Oliver Fretz, but the lighting designer is ultimately Beckett himself. The rhythm of the script is deliberately jarring, and as the narrative repeats itself, one is reminded of the sorts of domestic arguments that just don’t end.

Footfalls both contrasts and complements Play. The rapid-fire speech is replaced by a performance that is almost too slow to maintain interest. I suppose it does so because of its relative brevity, and rather curious storyline, which I couldn’t quite work out without reading it up afterwards. (Even then, I still don’t understand why the word “sequel” was announced twice in the space of a few minutes – was there a sequel to that sequel?) May (Anna Bonnett) paces back and forth across the exact same section of the stage, with Voice (Pearl Marsland), seemingly that of May’s mother, counting exactly nine seconds, the time taken to complete one section.

The lighting gradually diminishes, as does May herself until, in a harrowing final but very brief scene, the lights come up on an empty and silent stage. What precedes that moment is ambiguous, to say the least, but very thought-provoking, providing much post-show discussion afterwards. It was interesting to hear from director John Patterson about how the Beckett estate continues to rigorously stipulate how productions of Beckett’s works are to be staged: any attempts to deviate from the specific stage directions in the script could even result, potentially, in legal proceedings. But there is, we were assured, some room for creativity, which at least alleviates concerns about Beckett plays essentially becoming museum exhibits.

A committed cast deliver an unusual evening of theatre, best enjoyed by those who like minimalist and unorthodox productions.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Footfalls
A ghostly figure paces a bare strip of landing outside her dying – if not already dead – mother’s room. Dressed in tatters, she is clearly a shadow of her former self as she engages in conversation with the disembodied voice of her mother until her own light is eventually extinguished.

Play
Three identical urns contain a man, his wife and his mistress. At rapid tempo, when prompted by an inquisitive spotlight, they each recount their own version of an unexceptional affair.

Angel Theatre Company presents
Footfalls and Play
by Samuel Beckett
directed by John Patterson
Tuesday 26 February to Saturday 9 March 2019
Press Night | Thursday 28 February | 7.30pm

Listings Information
Footfalls and Play
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
https://brockleyjack.co.uk/

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