CLOSE OF A LONG DAY
One had taken a weblog hiatus for several months, after six years of digital criticism-as-performance, one had closed the curtain. One took no bows, asked for no applause. One had a mind to extraction from the sphere of ‘theatre criticism’ entirely (one does not wish to get bogged down in reasons why).
And yet one cannot refuse an invitation unto Beckett.
Always Beckett what drags one back. Beckett where it all began, Beckett what defies the critical word.
One does not simply write criticism of Beckett. One simply absorbs and exhales.
And so, with some disclaim. This is not criticism. The purpose of The Fifth Wall was to bridge ideas (the work) and understanding (the audience). With Beckett, one might almost suggest the reverse dynamic is true. The audience is the work.
Rarely performed short-works by the modernist master, cheekily arranged with amusing (if silent) asides from the writer himself (one could almost describe this show as a retrospective).
It sets an absorbing tone to the evening, built from a repetitive rhythmic and movement exercise it captures the driven day-to-day futility so prevalent in Beckett’s writing. His major works (Godot/ Happy Days) are famous for their ‘nothing-to-be-done’ approach to universal ennui. But this one is what you might call “boiled-down”. No music-hall comedic charm to gild the existential lily with these, just the yearning chasm looking back at you, prettily.
As the four players engage in the dance, it hypnotises and leaves one alone with one’s thoughts. Whatever one had brought into the room becomes the subject of the play. So if you find it boring, that’s your deal. What I saw was beauty within futility within purpose within colour within nature within a shroud. You might see something else. That’s how Beckett rolls, so settle in and you’re in for a treat.
II COME AND GO
The most impenetrable of the works, made up of fewer than 130 words and iron-clad mixed-in-concrete stage-directions. Of the four works it predates the others by twenty years and as such one can say with confidence it is classic Beckett. We must see this to approach an understanding of all Beckett’s writing. We must perform it to know him better. The cyclic elements, the pointless secrecy, the familial and Shakespearean allusions all hallmark what more educated critics might preclude in Beckettian semiotics. Beckettesque? Beckettarian. Being less epistemic in one’s approach to dramatic form, one might call these people idiots. One does not simply use a made-up word to capture an entire system of dramaturgical thought.
This piece from the twilight of Beckett’s career is less ambiguously a direct closing of the loop between Birth and Death. Even the title links to sleep and the rocking chair motif extends across from infancy to the frailty of the very old. The structure, with discrete visual and aural elements enhances the discord one imagines Beckett is reaching to inhabit with the work. It draws on his wordsmithery in that stream-of-consciousness technique made famous by Lucky’s speech in Godot. But it is a severe error to assume the words are selected at random. The language of Beckett is steeped in linguistic pun. Words are chosen that may sound different in French and therefore set up unique meanings as one chooses to hear and interpret them. He uses the technique throughout his canon, as in-jokes, entendres and question marks. Not always easy to spot, but crucial to his dichotomy of symbols. It makes listening to what one critic might call “unremarkable” – into a fascinating game of words and images. Nothing is there by accident. Everything has its place.
One is reminded of an anecdote in which the two Irishmen Samuel Beckett and James Joyce happened upon each other. More likely Paris, but for the sake of imagery let’s say it was in some wintry pub in Dublin. Over a pint of Guinness, Joyce asks the younger man: “How many words did you write today?”
Beckett, grimacing: “Well. Not a bad day today. I managed seven.”
Joyce’s eyes light up: “That’s good, for you – seven. That’s very good.”
To which Beckett shrugs and says: “Trouble is though, I haven’t figured out what order to put them in yet.”
Never underestimate what Beckett is up to. Less is always Most.
IV CATASTROPHE (For Vaclav Havel)
The three words in the subtitle/ dedication for this work tell all. For the uninitiated, Vaclav Havel was a playwright in the former Czechoslovakia who was frequently kidnapped and tortured by the totalitarian government of the day (at the time of writing he was in prison for dissidence). He continued to write and became President after the fall of the Communist Party in 1989.
And so Beckett makes a powerful vignette about the artist vs visible power structures, not pulling any punches with parallels within the theatre context, as it represents the ongoing existential struggle of the individual prevalent in all his work. And for Sydney, Australia, here and now? It’s not quite Brandis 2015 but hey, not exactly far off, either.
Insofar as the Brandis Wars go, this production is crowdfunded excellence. The work is honest and true to the author’s vision. Straight-up and neat, a rare chance to see a 20th Century master in action. You may not see its like again. We suggest you go.
METAFOUR, By Samuel Beckett. Featuring Aslam Abdus-Samad, Bodelle de Ronde, Gideon Payten Griffiths, Pollyanna Nowicki, Sophie Littler and Victoria Griener. Directed by Erica Brennan, playing at PACT, Sydney until August 15th.
Entry filed under: Sydney THEATRE. Tags: Aslam Abdus-Samad, Bodelle de Ronde, Erica Brennan, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Glorious Thing, Metafour, PACT, Pollyanna Nowicki, Samuel Beckett, Sophie Littler, Victoria Greiner, [use tags to help navigate this document].