Not I / Footfalls / Rockaby @ Duchess Theatre
Just being told you're about to be plunged into utter darkness is thrilling. That you're not allowed to leave, if you feel panicked (panic? what panic? I was fine! you mean people try to leave half way though it's that traumatic? waaaaaa) is a brilliantly dramatic way to introduce a selection of three preposterously pretentious mini-plays. This pretension is exactly what I love about Samuel Beckett, and I've wanted to experience something more than just an academic encounter with plays like Not I. With more than a cringe, I picked up my battered copy of The Complete Works of Samuel Beckett after booking my tickets a month ago. Not only had I scrawled, seminar-bored, over his already withered face with a biro, I taken said biro to underline and write in the margins insightful commentary which mostly consisted of 'rape?'. Subsequently, for the first two plays all I could think about was how the lines related to this. Luckily the last one was just about death. Cheery.
The focusing of attention and breathlessly intense delivery of Not I far outweighs any pretentious premise. If you don't know, the whole ten minute monologue is delivered with nothing on stage but an isolated mouth. With all the fire exits dimmed, no phones, nothing but darkness enveloping the whole audience, it's a truly communal experience. And one you simply can't recreate in any other medium - if you've bought the cheap seats and are sat right in the gods you have to strain to see the very tiny human mouth chattering away. I *think* they must have lit the mouth from the inside, but with all the eye straining, I may have started hallucinating. That was one of the fascinating inbetween act experiences. If I was someone who'd done loads of drugs, I'm pretty sure that I would've had a paranoid episode or an acid flash back. As it was, it reminded me of staring at those Magic Eye pictures - shapes began forming in the darkness, and I began trying to work out how they did it. Was there a gauze lowered when I wasn't paying attention? Are they projecting these shapes from somewhere? After seeing the curtain call, I can pretty safely assume: no.
The first fifteen minutes of this short theatrical experience was, as I said, utterly thrilling. I loved it, and would happily have just seen that. What is so incredible about the whole evening, at the end, is just how simple the whole thing is. And yet, not. The manipulation of light is so precise, and plays such a huge role in the absence of traditional narrative, and all the over blown trappings of mainstream theatre. Honestly, Footfalls is hard work and a bit of endurance theatre (feeling far, far longer than the probable twenty minutes it inhabited), whereas Rockaby had a more reassuring repetition and purpose. I actually laughed at one of the false endings. But to have the chance to experience the verbal battering of Not I, is one of the most uniquely theatrical experiences you can have.