Beckett has a remarkable way of walking a fine line, always concerned with the bleakness of life, yet always able to find a light side to it and the inherent humour in it. Fragments, directed by Peter Brook, offers five bite-sized examples of just this, despairing human existence made laughable. Matthew Amer steeled his soul for the first night at the Young Vic.
Life is a journey to nowhere. Not a lot happens and most of what does is fairly mundane and repetitive. It is a feeling at the heart of all five pieces brought together by Peter Hall, with the help of performers Jos Houben, Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni. But this is Beckett, after all, so there is more to it than 'life is depressing'.
Act Without Words II, for example, finds Magni and Houben emerging in turn from human-sized carrier bags when awakened by a giant white spike, and going about their daily routine, one in a begrudging, grumpy fashion and the other enjoying every moment. It is the only piece in which no-one speaks, and is filled with the clowning and physical comedy you would expect from two of the original members of Complicite. It depicts a regimented trudge through life, which moves on very little each day, and two opposing ways to cope with that reality.
Similarly, Rockaby, performed solo by Hunter – looking wonderfully frail, nervous and much like a startled rabbit – tells of the ongoing search for a human connection, day after day of longing. Its repetitious format ticks along like a metronome counting the minutes of your life.
Rough For Theatre I, the most complete of the pieces, follows a dour blind man and an upbeat cripple, who both view the other as a 'poor wretch', before realising that by coming together they might help each other. Magni, throughout the evening, makes unhappiness his forte, while Houben revels in a lighter, more upbeat touch.
All the pieces are presented against the stark breeze-blocked walls of the Young Vic's Maria theatre with little in the way of costume, props or other theatrical paraphernalia to draw attention away from the central performances and the rhythm, meter and delivery of Beckett's despairing, uplifting, poetic prose.
Fragments plays at the Young Vic until 6 October.