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Samuel Beckett and Peter Brook. Two theatre gurus: the playwright, tall and gnarled; the director, small and contained. If Beckett were alive, he might feel tempted to put them into one of his double-act dramas. But here we get the work of one upon the work of the other. And it’s a compliment to this evening of Beckett dramas directed by Brook that you soon forget the status of both artists and just enjoy the work.
The show consists, as the title suggests, of short Beckett pieces. They give us distilled Beckett: that bleak vision of humanity struggling to make sense of it all before toppling into the grave. But they also give us Beckett the clown. And in the hands of Brook and the three actors – Kathryn Hunter, Marcello Magni and Jos Houben – the sharp observation of human conduct is lovingly delivered.
The two men do the clowning. In Rough for Theatre I, Magni is a dour, blind musician, Houben is a resiliently cheerful cripple. The two achieve a condition of querulous mutual dependence, before squabbling. You could say it was the human condition in a nutshell, or you could just enjoy their droll exchanges. In Act Without Words II, the actors assume the same upbeat/downbeat characters, but magnified. Here, in a wordless drama, the two emerge from giant sacks to go through a silent-movie-style comic routine of daily drudge. Houben is particularly engaging as he bustles about his business and finally folds himself painstakingly into his sack.
While they grapple with the indignities of life, Kathryn Hunter slides into the shadow of death. A solitary figure in black, she delivers Neither and Rockaby. In the latter, Brook curiously chooses to have her speak the monologue, rather than listen to it. But Hunter is touching as she rocks herself into a final sleep.
They finish with Come and Go. Here three old ladies sit on a park bench. Each time one leaves, the other two share some terrible secret about her. Again, it’s a comic routine with a pleasing music-hall appeal, but as the three finally join hands, the gesture seems defiant. These are just fragments, but they are poignant fragments, deftly done.
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