An extremely influential towering figure of 20th century literature, Samuel Beckett has challenged recent generations of students, actors and theatre directors, but nobody would ever say that understanding Beckett is a walk in the park. These three one-act plays are no exception, but were considerably enlightened for me and a large proportion of the audience, by the Q and A discussion with the actors and directors at the conclusion of the evening.
The three plays fitted excellently together, sharing common elements beyond the most obvious fact that each is played by a single actor interacting with an offstage Voice, making a logical combination as a trilogy.
They each also featured the presence of memories, and the present interacting with the past (if one could be sure it was really there, or if, as State Theatre Company Artistic Director Geordie Brookman pointed out, are we only the sum total of our memories?) The plays also shared a tension between two people, or between the parts of a divided self, such as Beckett tantalisingly portrays so well, and thus they each revealed something autobiographically of Beckett’s own inner life and darkness.
The plays are equally dark, questioning of the meaning of life, if there is one, and each has long, silent reflective pauses as are frequently employed by Beckett in his directions.
[pull_left]The plays are equally dark, questioning of the meaning of life, if there is one[/pull_left]
Footfalls, directed by Geordie Brookman and played by Pamela Rabe with Sandy Gore as Voice (the Mother, off) happens entirely as May (or is she Amy?) paces relentlessly up and down in a Miss Havisham-esque spider-webby, raggy lace gown. It is excellently acted by Rabe, and superbly lit as she paces in and out of shadows, by Lighting Designer Ben Flett.
Eh Joe is directed by Corey McMahon. Paul Blackwell as Joe, sits silently on a bed in a stark, bare room, with Pamela Rabe’s pre-recorded Voice of his conscience/tormentor/memory. But he acts intensely throughout, as his unblinking image is projected onto the scrim in front of him, getting confrontingly larger, closer and more intimate, as the torturing Voice asks, “Does anyone living love you now – eh Joe?” until just his eyes fill the entire screen. Written for TV, this play is expertly adapted to the live genre, and is a tour de force by Blackwell, although he doesn’t utter a word.
Krapp’s Last Tape, directed by Nescha Jelk featured the veteran Peter Caroll as Krapp, with his own Voice on tape, being himself 30 years ago. We learn how the man has struggled to control aspects of his life – drinking, intimacy, order and chaos etc., as he sits and reminisces with the tape at a simple table surrounded by a wonderful set depicting an enormous array of chaos surrounding him. Carroll plays this with gripping intensity and with some humour as Krapp struggles with his haunting failures and missed opportunities.
This is not what you might call a light, entertaining night at the theatre, but it certainly is a challenging and fascinating one. Brookman and The STCSA are to be applauded for having the courage to stage this trilogy in the first place, and for having the vision and the ability to do it so creatively.