Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Aux gogues la vie

Hands up those of you who can't sleep because you have a play by Samuel Beckett stuck on a loop in your mind ?

Just me then.

Last Saturday I went to see "Fragments" , a set of short Beckett theatre pieces which included "Rockaby", a minimalist solo piece for one prematurely-aged woman and a chair.

I had never seen the piece performed before, but I had read and enjoyed it in the "Complete Dramatic Works" and at first I was pretty irritated by the performance.

You see, Beckett was pretty clear in his stage notes as to how the play should be performed. For a start, the vast majority of the dialogue should be played from a recording, with the actress responding in voice only a little. Even the exact shape of the rocking chair was spelled out. It was also specified that this carefully described chair should be rocked by an unseen mechanical means with no assistance from the actress.

These instructions were followed at the performance to the letter, except that no recordings were used and the chair was not a rocker, just a straight-back chair which the actress rocked herself throughout.

Look, the thing about minimalism is that everything unimportant has been taken out by the author, leaving only what they believe is crucial behind. So when Beckett says something, he thought it was important dammit, so don't mess with it. Dammit.

So, with all this screaming going on in my head, the piece was halfway through before I fully appreciated Kathryn Hunter's performance. Damn, she can act. Beckett's dialogue is sparse so the actress needs to fill in with her eyes, her bearing and her tone. Kathryn Hunter gripped the audience - even managing to drown out my inner pedant.

It's all about death and perception and the perception of death and the death of perception, so best try something else if you're looking for levity. But it is one of the best short plays there is, and Peter Brook (the director) should blooming well stop trying to "improve" it.

1 comment:

ArcticFox said...

Sounds like they would have succeeded too, if it weren't for those meddling kids!!!