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Not I, Catastrophe and Rockaby by Samuel Beckett at Jack Studio Theatre

Not IThis isn’t the first time I’ve encountered Samuel Beckett’s Not I, in which an actress’s mouth is visible and nothing else. But I’m still not sure what Mouth (Samantha Kamras) is going on about: she certainly feels very passionately about what has happened, but as the sentences spoken are so often incomplete, it is difficult to work out what the whole story is. There are pauses in the monologue, and in this production, they serve – as far as I could deduce – as opportunities for gurning, or at least showing off how white and shiny Mouth’s gnashers are.

For some, the experience may have proved to be quite moving. I felt rather detached from it all, however – is the staging too successful? In most cases the performer’s head shape can be made out even if only the mouth is illuminated: here, the mouth alone moves flexibly through an opening in a wall-like structure, with even the rest of her face completely obscured from view. The story (if it can be called that) is delivered in the third person. I can only assume audiences are supposed to make their own minds up as to whether Not I is about the speaker, or as the title suggests, someone else.

Catastrophe sees a Protagonist (Louis Fox), who quite impressively stays in whatever posing position the Director (Stephen Donald) has determined he ought to be in. The stoical Assistant (Joanne Clarke) keeps her cool in the face of the Director’s frustrations, very convincingly. It’s possible to make various comparisons between this trio and others – whether in politics, commerce or entertainment, there are micromanagers who feel the need to very laboriously go over every finite detail. Observing it from the outside in, it can (to an extent) be somewhat amusing. And then there are the Protagonists, those who would speak if only they were given a voice and a platform to be able to do – that the Protagonist is a non-speaking role itself suggests a complete lack of influence.

In Rockaby, a character named only as Woman (Anna Bonnett) sits, in a rocking chair, accompanied by the thoughts in her head, helpfully voiced for the audience to hear. One major snag: these thoughts are incredibly repetitive, and while it becomes clear before long that the end is in sight for this woman, it also takes a rather long time for the end to arrive. The relatively mundane list of activities that is recited again and again made me reflect on whether I could do with a shakeup of my own routines for the better. The Woman’s voice is dull and dreary, which made engagement with the play rather difficult – but the production is only following Beckett’s precise instructions.

All three short, reflective plays are slickly performed within the hour: not a moment longer than required and at the same time, distinctly unrushed. Samuel Beckett’s works are not always the most penetrable, and while this isn’t the kind of production that will appeal to everyone, there is food for thought in these brief, nuanced and assured performances.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A disembodied mouth suspended in mid-air spews out dialogue at ferocious pace…
An autocratic director and his assistant put the finishing touches to their final scene…
A woman recounts her past, driven by the motion of her rocking chair…

Following their critically acclaimed sell-out run of Beckett’s Footfalls and Play at The Jack Studio in 2019, Angel Theatre Company return with three more of his short plays: Not I, Catastrophe and Rockaby.

This trio offers a unique insight into the fascinating theatrical world of Samuel Beckett. His plays revolutionised theatre and secured his place as one of the greatest dramatists of the twentieth century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.

NOT I, CATASTROPHE AND ROCKABY
by Samuel Beckett
produced by Angel Theatre Company
directed by John Patterson
Tuesday 25 February – Saturday 7 March 2020 at 7.30pm
https://brockleyjack.co.uk/

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