As an opening disclaimer I should mention that I don’t really ‘get’ Beckett. I’ve tried, and I know people who wax lyrical about his magical political brilliance – but whenever I try and read or see his plays my mind twists with thinking and I come away feeling a little less intelligent and a little more defeated. Should theatre be that much like hard work?
But I really enjoyed the Whispering Beasts three short Beckett plays at Old Red Lion last night. I’m not sure I completely understood exactly what was happening all the time – but the three plays rubbed up against each other really beautifully and the cast put on a hell of a show.
In Act Without Words 1 – a man is thrown into life – and then challenged and beckoned and frustrated and given what appears to be a fast lesson in learned helplessness. Joe Eyre performed this mime with a perfect level of the initial innocence and enthusiasm turning to refusal and defeat. In such a tiny theatre the cast did well with the lowering and retracting of the objects – quite a feat of choreography. Under Sara Joyce’s direction Act Without Words reminded me very much of Secret Theatre’s recent ‘A series of increasingly Impossible Acts’ – with all the joy and chaos, but without the ensemble to help and interject.
In Rough for Theatre ll – a man is about to throw himself out of life. Croker (Dominic Grove) stands statuesque and backlit on a smoky windowsill apparently about to jump. Betrand (Bryan Moriarty) and Morven (Joe Eyre) meet to decide whether or not they should intervene. They have dossiers of information. They have intermittently working lights and they have occasionally impenetrable and often funny dialogue. Who knew that ‘Bury St Edmunds’ could get such a big laugh – or that a fifty year old ‘verb’ gag could work so well.
And are they guardian angels or fallen angels or some sort of other worldly beings? Did Beckett write Dogma before Kevin Smith was even conceived? There’s a bit about a bird singing while its mate lies dead in front of him that has to mean something…and the light and the dark and the strange final expression on Croker’s face, that we don’t get to see and the question about whether it is even his final expression that could make your head explode if you think too much about it – but ultimately it is funny, pacey and cleverly directed – and there were lots of laughs from the audience.
The final of the three, Catastrophe – shows a man (Dominic Grove) as a living statue. The Director (Bryan Moriarty) dictates and bosses whilst his assistant (Kate Kennedy) fusses and notes and aims to please. Kennedy is brilliant in this scene, conveying the confusion and compassion turning to an excited malice, the dirty joy of power over another – both the living statue and the unseen Luke. Is this a play about obedience or rebellion? Is this a play about how easily good people can be corrupted? Is this about sexism and the female assistant’s willingness to please the dominant man? Is it about fascism or racism – why does he want the statue whitened? Is the director God? Is Dominic Grove smiling or grimacing at the end?
Sara Joyce has obviously thought deeply about the presentation of the pieces and she’s given them a freshness that is no easy task. There are so many choices to contemplate from the hanging ropes, the hooks and eyes, from the empty stage to the choice of black and white costumes against a pale grey background. And the plays work well together, with the recurring themes of obedience and struggle and defeat. A shout out to the designer and lighting designer also for the simplicity and clever use of contrasts.
I can’t claim to completely understand everything I saw – and my friend and I spent a good hour debating what we thought it all meant. But maybe part of the fun is making your own interpretation. I’m not going to say this is ‘easy’ theatre, but it’s the most accessible and most entertaining Beckett I’ve seen.
Review by Roz Wyllie
Three Short Plays by Samuel Beckett
Act Without Words 1
Rough For Theatre 11
Act Without Words I
Rough for Theatre II
Three short plays by Samuel Beckett
“You’d be the death of me if I were sufficiently alive!”
Three short plays from a twentieth century master, performed together by award-winning theatre company Whispering Beasts.
Act Without Words I
Alone in a deserted landscape, a man hunts for shelter, teased and tormented by an unseen force which takes away as easily as it gives.
An autocratic Director, his bewildered Assistant and a subservient Performer are whipping themselves on the eve of their opening night.
Rough for Theatre II
In the dead of night, Morvan and Bertrand are deciding the destiny of a man who is contemplating a fatal jump from the window of his fifth floor apartment. Charged with humour, anger and humanity, these plays create a surreal yet familiar world; a world of mystery and mercurial characters, where control of everything is undetermined and salvation can emerge from the most unexpected places.
Director Sara Joyce
Composer and Sound Design Greg Harradine
Set and Costume Charlie Marie Austin
Lighting Josh Pharo
Whispering Beasts are supporting BAC following the devastating fire that destroyed the Grand Hall on March 13th. £10 from every ticket for the performance on Friday 10th April will go towards #BACPhoenix fighting fund.
Old Red Lion Theatre
7th to 25th April 2015
Whispering Beasts Theatre Company
Friday 10th April 2015