Thursday 19 October 2017

wonderful and explicit Beckett

Emer O'Kelly

STANDING outside the Screen Cinema in central Dublin on a suddenly wintry evening, the kernel of Beckett's bleak philosophy became weirdly visible. And it had nothing to do with performance. A garda van pulled up on the far side of the street, two officers got out and unlocked the rear doors. Then they unlocked the inner grid, and half-hauled, half-helped a gangling figure to emerge. He was emaciated, almost unconscious, filthy, unaware of his surroundings. Feet dragging, his arms across the shoulders of the two young gardai, he disappeared through the brightly lit entrance of the garda station. I seemed to be the only person among the quite large crowd waiting to see Rough for Theatre 1 who noticed that real-life Beckett play. The author would probably have been wryly amused.

Then, led by a guide, we all wended our way through some of the darkened streets behind Pearse Street to arrive at a parking yard on the quays, windswept and arid, where Sarah Jane Scaife's production for Company SJ/Barabbas got under way as we were invited to look at isolated tableaux of hope and hopelessness.

Grinding fiddle music and a call for coins then centred us on Trevor Knight's 'A', a blind and derelict tramp. He was joined by Raymond Keane's wheelchair-bound amputee 'B'. And the two, just for a few minutes, recalled their lives ... both had had women ... and briefly thought, perhaps, that they could each supplement the other's need. And then the ingrained habit of isolated survival destroyed even pragmatic hope in the brutality of a raised cudgel.

It was horrifying, and it was wonderful; it is also from the 1950s, and therefore unusually explicit for Beckett. And perhaps if he were present on Monday night, he would have pointed to the derelict man emerging from the garda van and said "Forget the play: look there; then go home."

***

Gavin Kostick's The Games People Play is what is described as an "old-fashioned well-made play." So perhaps it has no place in the Fringe Festival; on the other hand, it could be said to shine a light on how drama succeeds. It's a Rise production at the New Theatre (transferring to the Viking Sheds in Clontarf), and is a genuinely accomplished and imaginative take on post-boom family destruction.

Oisin and Niamh are treading on eggs in their relationship, separately uneasily aware of how many of their friends' marriages have broken down under financial pressure. Their aspirations and their personal dignity are in shreds as Oisin, a self-employed operator in event management, faces a move to Birmingham in order to meet mortgage payments. But Niamh wants to retrain as a full-time teacher, determined to be a school principal before she is 40.

The crunch-time for what may become a weekend marriage comes on the evening before their son's seventh birthday, as they work their way through the humiliating limitations of post-crash living.

That's it, really; but it is an intense, convincing picture of a contemporary marriage, and it is played extremely well by Lorna Quinn as Niamh, and absolutely superbly by Aonghus Og McAnally as Oisin.

They are directed by Bryan Burroughs.

***

The Secret Art of Murder, a Five Gallants production at the Boys' School in Smock Alley, is pretty awful. But it is also quite admirable because it sets out with high ambition, a sense of humour, and a lot of intelligence. It's just the technique to turn them into a dramatic whole that's missing.

An actor/narrator (Rob McDermott) explains that he doesn't believe the official accounts of the death of Shakespeare's contemporary Christopher Marlowe, who may have been a government spy. In fact, nobody has been able to establish the truth behind that day in a Deptford inn in 1593, when Marlowe, lying on a couch after a drinking bout, was stabbed in the eye by Ingram Frizer, one of the three men with him, and died almost immediately. Frizer was acquitted of murder because the coroner found he acted in self-defence.

McDermott steps into the role of Marlowe and explores the events (in rather iffy blank verse) with Marlowe's fellow writer Thomas Kyd, and with Frizer, as well as Robert Poley and Nicholas Skeres who were the witnesses. But it goes nowhere because there's nowhere to go. There's also a problem with the acting: nobody except McDermott has a bull's clue how to speak verse; in fact none of them has a bull's clue how to speak at all: can drama schools not explain that the first task is to unclench your back teeth and open your mouth?

It's written by Stephen McDermott and directed by Conor Madden, and although it doesn't work, it deserves marks for imagination and effort.

Sunday Independent

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