January 14, 2014 5:12 pm

Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby, Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court, London – review

A triple bill of Samuel Beckett “dramaticules”
Lisa Dwan in ‘Not I’©Alastair Muir

Lisa Dwan in ‘Not I’

On its first visit to the Royal Court last year, Lisa Dwan’s 40th-anniversary revival of Not I was publicised in part as a kind of attempt on the Samuel Beckett land speed record. This monologue delivered by a disembodied mouth in otherwise complete (and I mean complete) darkness usually lasts 14 or 15 minutes; Dwan knocks it off in under nine. This time it gains in context by being presented with two other Beckett “dramaticules”, in a triple bill that lasts less than an hour including changeovers between plays. All three present protagonists out of control, or out of hope, or out of both.

What Dwan’s Not I loses in rhythmical delivery (on the page . . . it is laid out . . . phrase by phrase . . . like this), it gains in the power of the torrent. As “Mouth” tells the story – its own, we assume – of a woman who lived most of her life in silence and suddenly found herself afflicted by a compulsion to speak, Dwan’s near-glossolalia approaches Beckett’s ideal of utterance at “the speed of thought”. We grab what intelligibility we can, and for the rest let Mouth’s condition wash over us.

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Footfalls is, at just over 20 minutes, the longest piece of the three, and I begin to wonder whether, within the Beckett oeuvre, it is a little overrated. The visual/physical set-up of dimly seen, raggedly dressed May walking up and down nine paces at a stretch outside her mother’s door is characteristically Beckettian, but the series of dialogues with the disembodied voice of the mother and monologues by each feel at once overdone and vague, if we can infer no more than that both may be ghosts.

Rockaby is once again pure distilled Beckett, as a woman sits in a self-propelled rocking chair listening to a third-person account of her own decline, despair and expiration. Here, as in Footfalls, Dwan succeeds in ageing her recorded voice by several decades, so that it sounds as dry and ancient as the paper lining the drawers of your grandmother’s dresser. Here, too, the phrase-by-phrase rhythm meshes with the rocking: thoughts are slow, short, discrete, repetitive. As so often with Beckett, we may emerge claiming incomprehension but, almost unbeknown to ourselves, with an unconscious knowledge of what the oul’ grouch was on about.


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