It’s a weird hour, this,  even for late Samuel Beckett.  Three short solos,  performed by Lisa Dwan in an impressive feat of memory and mood,  meditate on the life, decay and trapped unhappiness of the female condition.   Walter Asmus’ production is staged in tenebrous gloom (wonderful chiaroscuro lighting by James Farncombe) and the plays are separated by minutes of sinister rumbling, and darkness so deep that you can’t see your hand in front of your face.   So it’s an experience: that disintegrated, unnerving Beckett thing which works once you relinquish intellectual curiosity and let words and rhythms  lap around you like a troubling dream.

The first piece,  Not I, is the best known: first performed here forty years ago by Billie Whitelaw. Eight feet above the stage the speaker is a disembodied mouth: bright-lit as a single point in deep blackness,  a static twinkling star with lips and teeth delivering – at the speed of thought – a tumbling monologue.  Sometimes it is a comical gabble,  an Irish sparkle of busyness and explanation; sometimes a shout of pain, as if life and sense were dissolving under  the torture that is life.

The second, Footfalls,  sees the darkness broken by a vision of Dwan in white tatters, pallid as a candle,  patrolling and pacing near a mother’s deathbed and answered at intervals by the sepulchral ancient voice of the dying one.  It resolves into a sort of fragment of a lost novel, hinting at half-forgotten things, senseless but focused by the hypnotic dualism of Dwan’s marvellous voice.   The third piece is Rockaby:  again a woman, maybe the bereaved daughter, prematurely old in beaded black on a rocking chair which moves on its own, her face falling in and out of the light.  She speaks a poetic, repetitive, beautifully soporific monotone of  decline, “At the end of the day,  quiet at the window, famished eyes..” etc..  Until the rocking stops with “fuck life,  stop her eyes, rock her off…”

All brilliantly done.  And yet at this point my ancestral Irishness – which recognized the authentic sparkle and mischief behind the pain in the first piece  – suddenly detected that other and more acccursed Hibernian tone:  maudlin and mawkish.  Up rose in memory all those poems about moribund mothers gripping trapped sons and daughters in permanent sorrowful helplessness.  I thought of all those songs which drone out of RTE’s obscurer corners with lines like  “O Lord let the winter go quickly, that the flowers may bloom where she lies”.  Or, in a wicked parody from disrespectful modern Ireland,   “I am digging up me mother from her lonely Leitrim grave…”.    And the mood of acceptance broke, and I felt that Sam B was on the edge conning me. Or himself.
But it has been an hour too consummately well done to regret or forget.

Sponsors: Coutts / American Airlines.
This week sold out at the Court (some day tickets)
But it transfers to   Duchess, WC2, 3-15 Feb   0844 482 9672
then touring Cambridge, Birmingham, Lowry
Rating:  four    4 Meece Rating


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