Caution: this is not for the faint-hearted. It’s not gruesome or terrifying, but Samuel Beckett’s trilogy of short plays on offer at The Lowry plunge you into the heart of Absurdism.
The night began with an announcement: “The three plays will run at 55 minutes, including a 3 minute silence between each piece. We will be turning the house lights and emergency lights off. If you have to leave, there will be no re-admittance.” And then they turned out the lights.
If you think it’s dark in a regular theatre, think again. The blackness was all-encompassing, pressing heavily against my eyes; I was straining to see anything. Not I begins not with a light, but a gurgle. The Mouth is born onto the stage, a pin-prick of a spotlight illuminating the beautiful red lips and white teeth, eight feet in the air, making the ugliest noises. Then the Mouth, voiced by the fantastic Lisa Dwan, the sole performer of all three plays, starts to talk.
Not I is an unstoppable torrent of thought and emotion, spoke “at the speed of thought,” veering along a vague path of connected images, up and down, excited and bored and angry and violent. The monologue couldn’t have last more than fifteen minutes—I’d guess even ten, given the breakneck speed of the speech!—before the audience is plunged into blackness once more.
Footfalls and Rockaby are both haunting and melancholy, seeing Dwan first pace the stage back and forth as she upheld an incredible dialogue as both mother and daughter, then rocking back and forth as the Woman in her chair, contemplating her life and her death.
Lisa Dwan was an amazing performer throughout—it was hard to believe that the three pieces starred the same actress. Not I involved so much energy that I felt pinned to my seat by the force of her words. The tone of Footfalls and Rockaby are very different, but the intensity is never lost, even for a moment. Particularly in Footfalls, Dwan balances the measured pacing and the battle between her two characters with the utmost precision and the tension—and the sadness—she created was truly palpable.
For me, the trilogy was astounding, with an exceptional performance from Lisa Dwan, but it is not for everyone—evident from the whispers in the stalls during Not I. However, if you’ve never experienced Absurdist theatre before and fancy throwing yourself in at the deep end give it a go—you might enjoy it! And for fans of the Absurd, and of Beckett: what’s stopping you?
5 out of 5 stars