There are those who like the bleak, philosophical plays of mid-twentieth century Irishman, Samuel Beckett, and those who would rather swallow poison. On offer for us, in the subtle darkness of La Mama’s old theatre, were two short plays brought subtly to life by Director Laurence Strangio, in Not I and Eh Joe. Both sold-out events, a crowd of disciples sat in rapt attention.
Beckett's unearthly worlds, bereft of comfort, are for some an exercise in torture, as they lack plot development or any plot at all. For those of us acquainted with the fathomless interior that is our minds, and the question of our place in the world, little catch-ups with this enigmatic mastermind are akin to priestly healings, offering comfort along the long walk we make in this realm and through eternity.
A better suited venue to mount Beckett’s bleak musing on the frailties of humans could not have presented, with set design incorporating the aged interior of its Victorian walls, locks, window and doors, presenting in virtual blackness. Shards of murky green and yellowish light punctuate this darkness like mist on a wharf. Accentuating Beckett’s text, the direction allowed the words to star, with stripped back authenticity. Emerging like voices from the subconscious, the tales in this play visit anxious minds, querying the life lived and actions chosen.
Not I is a mind-conversation acted by the expressive Caroline Lee as only a mouth visible through a pleated, circular black curtain. Bodies don’t always show in Beckett, being mere vessels that permit the action of our minds. Troubled by self-doubt and questioning, the voice challenges the motives of her owner but has moments of light humour. It reminded us of how our thoughts can veer to self-reflection in the everyday.
Eh, Joe, is presented by John Flaus atop an old mattress strewn across the floor. A ravaged old man, held together in dirty pyjamas, the character-filled voice of Brenda Palmer mouths his thoughts, offstage. The woman’s voice pierces Joe’s mind, pinning him in its interrogation of his memory of a failed past relationship, ending tragically. The story of a woman's loss on seaside rocks lingered after the work’s close.
Often, we closed our eyes, allowing the incantatory words to carry us into the imaginative spaces of the characters. And, thus, into Beckett’s mind. The stories felt as fresh and relevant as had they been written last week, not 1965 or ‘72.
A very special night reviving these rarely staged plays took us to the heart of the matter. Forget love, hope, joy or happy endings. His musings concern the question of living a transacted life where regret is possibly the only final sentiment. These marvellous depictions of fragile humanity still beguile.
A stunning showcase of a little Beckett on a winter’s night to guide us through the dark night of the soul!
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold and non-traditional performance. On the street or in the box seat, she looks for quality works that push the envelope.
Not I and Eh, Joe showed 1& 2 August 2017 at La Mama Theatre. The venue is accessible.
See more of what’s on offer in La Mama’s 50th Winter Season.