The Beckett Trilogy | Gare St Lazare Players
Left - Conor Lovett. Photo - Dylan Vaughan
Witnessing three and a half hours of monologue, narrated by one actor on a bare stage under one spotlight, is a rare experience in Australia, but we were in the presence of a great interpreter of Samuel Beckett’s work and, if the man on stage, Conor Lovett, could hack it, so could we.
We are more used to seeing Beckett’s plays, in particular Waiting for Godot, onstage. He wrote that play as light relief after completing this trilogy of novels between 1946 and 1950: Malloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable. These are the heart of his work, bleak and hilarious, tender and relentless. Beckett wrote them to be read aloud, but not as theatre pieces.
Lovett works with director Judy Hegarty Lovett in Gare St Lazare Players Ireland to bring Beckett’s prose works to the theatre. The company grew out of the French theatre group and develops their productions in Ireland and France. They clearly have a profound understanding of Beckett, who was born and educated in Ireland but wrote mostly in French.
This tour de force by the Irish actor brings to the theatre excerpts from the trilogy. Now we can see the characters Malloy and Malone, bedridden in the original text, step up to the stage. Yet the life they take on is circumscribed: they stay within the compass of the spotlight, shuffling and shifting through the circular motions of the plotless dialogue.
Although portraying three characters with minimal brushstrokes, Lovett stays true to the role of storyteller, avoiding dramatic excess, his every move and vocal inflection serving the text, teasing out the ambiguities, the humour and the emotional currents, which can surface, after aeons of zigzagging dialogue, with surprising fury.
From the outset, the audience was eager to laugh at the absurdity of the text which doubles back on itself, the characters taking back their words and trying again and again to advance, without success. Malone differs little from Molloy, apart from the addition of a brimless hat and a more structured story featuring bizarre characters that change sex, shape and purpose, making sure all our expectations of meaning and resolution are well and truly thwarted.
Lovett is a master of the eloquent pause. To watch him, one becomes aware how much silence can convey: as much as words, if not more. It is the pauses that give Lovett’s performance a brilliance and that give the audience a chance to share in the searching for words and meaning and to give up, like the storyteller, in despair and in awe.
By the time The Unnamable character enters, in a dramatic change of spotlight, our laughter was dampened. The black-clad figure, dwarfed by his shadow, who appears to be the overall narrator, seriously doubts his every word and the origins of it. Is this schizophrenia, a writer’s despair of words, or mere existential angst? Each of us is free to interpret it according to our experience.
Gare St Lazare Players Ireland
The Beckett Trilogy
Molloy, Malone Dies & The Unnamable
by Samuel Beckett
Venue: The Arts Centre, Playhouse, Melbourne
Dates: 14 - 17 October, 2010
Times: Thurs, Fri & Sat 8pm; Sun 1pm
Duration: 3 hrs 30 mins
Tickets: $25 - $55
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or 1300 723 038; The Arts Centre 1300 182 183