There are some nights at the theatre when you can sit back, relax and just enjoy the show. This is not one of them.
My goodness, don’t you have to work as an audience member for Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby?
The three short plays by Irish part-sage, part-tormentor, part-elevator of theatergoers, Samuel Beckett, demand absolute commitment, investment and concentration from their audience.
They also require night vision that would make a rabbit with a serious carrot habit jealous. Not I is performed in pitch darkness with only actress Lisa Dwan’s lips visible, flickering away eight feet above the stage as they charge through the piece performed at the speed of thought. The following two use a half light that needs marginally less squinting.
Of the pieces, Not I is the most immediately striking. Though we might not catch every word, the oral dexterity exhibited by Dwan as she belts through Beckett’s text is impressive in itself, without the layers of existential questioning of a dying woman squeezed and fragmented in her speech.
Footfalls finds her returned to her entire body and looking like a ghostly Miss Havisham as she paces the stage metronomically, conversing with an unseen mother figure. She feels like a human pendulum, swinging away the days of the mother she was born to care for.
In a scene that would not feel out of place in The Woman In Black, Rockaby relocates Dwan to a self-propelled rocking chair that boasts voice recognition technology, moving to and fro as a voiceover tells the sad, repetitive story of a reclusive woman desperate to make the slightest human connection with anyone.
This is not easy theatre – it makes Waiting For Godot feel like We Will Rock You – but Beckett fans who invest in it will get their rewards, though possibly not at the Royal Court. The production is already sold out at the Sloane Square venue, though returns may be available. It will, however, take its floating lips and pacing to the West End’s Duchess Theatre from 3 February.