We might have missed out on a Brisbane season of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (due either to the lack of a large enough venue or non-payment from the producers, depending who you believe), but we’re finally seeing a Beckett here in Brisbane. And it’s no consolation prize.
First Love is a short story written in 1946, early in Beckett’s career, that’s been adapted for the stage by Ireland’s Gare St. Lazare Players. The troupe is known worldwide for their re-interpretations of Beckett’s work and, with First Love they’re making their first visit to Australia (and, lucky for us, starting in Brisbane).
It’s a story with a dark, clever, crude, twisting narrative that demands as much from the audience as it does from its sole actor. Conor Lovett delivers a 75 minute monologue in which he relates the events that occurred after his father’s death: his eviction from the family home, his nights spent on a park bench and his meeting with Lulu, a prostitute with a heart of gold who takes him in and is the object of his waxing and waning love.
First Love is essentially a one-sided conversation: full of asides, segues, and things left unsaid or unfinished. And it covers topics such as death, sex, defecation, constipation, the different forms love can take, park benches, graveyards, babies, marriage and much more.
It’s a hard task for an audience to follow an actor down such a winding road. Watching First Love is not about catharsis, about passive entertainment or even about just watching. Instead, to fully appreciate its complexities, you need to be completely connected to it, to be an active listener, a very observant participant.
For this reason, it's an exhausting experience to be an audience member of First Love. I'd even go so far as to say that it's not a very enjoyable experience. But, it is also an absolutely amazing experience to be witness to such a skillfully made production.
Conor Lovett deserves his reputation as one of the greatest Beckett actors of our time. His timing and manner is perfect as he switches between humour, confusion, genuine joy, apathy and shocking moments of anger or despair. He creates a character who is the finest balance between hateful and abhorrent and charming and sympathetic. His lilting Irish accent is the ideal vehicle to deliver Beckett’s words, lending both humour and pathos to the narrative.
He and director Judy Hegarty Lovett have staged a play that is so simple that it’s almost overwhelming. A single spotlight centres all attention on Lovett and two upturned and virtually unused park benches complete the scenery. Every pause in Lovett’s monologue (some so achingly long that you feel that he has actually forgotten his lines and all is lost) is played so skilfully, timed to hit you with the line just when you think you can’t take any more silence. The rare moments of physicality they have added are crystal clear, precise, devastating in their minimalism.
This is truly one of the highlights of what’s already been a brilliant Brisbane Festival. Go and see it, if for nothing else than to say you finally saw a Beckett play in Brisbane.
Brisbane Powerhouse and Brisbane Festival 2010 present
Gare St. Lazare Players
Directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett
Venue: Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse
Dates: Tue 21 – Sat 25 Sep, 2010
Tickets: Tue (preview) Full $25, Concession $20, Wed – Sun Full $34, Concession $26
Bookings: 07 3358 8600 | brisbanepowerhouse.org