Wednesday 28 September 2016

Disorientation in Beckett's isolation

Cascando Beckett Centre, TCD; Tina's Idea of Fun Peacock Theatre

Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30

Tina's Idea of Fun' is both very funny and full of despair.
Tina's Idea of Fun' is both very funny and full of despair.
Cascando is a theatrical adaptation of Samuel Beckett's radio play.

'If you could finish it….you could rest" says Opener effortfully in Beckett's radio play Cascando. But finish what? A piece of writing? Is Voice, the person he is addressing, a writer in difficulty, or a human being in wider emotional agony? Is he, Opener, the manifestation of Voice's deeper soul, the urger on to achieve the relief of oblivion? PanPan, in the person of director Gavin Quinn, seem to incline to the latter in their performance adaptation of the work written in French in 1961, and first performed in English in 1964 on Radio Three.

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Quinn has limited each audience at the Beckett Centre in Trinity to 30 people, who don black robes (Moroccon jubbas), shed their shoes, and process through blacked-out passages reminiscent of a cloister in hell, hearing the text through individual headphones, pausing occasionally when silently barred by our invisible leader, as Woburn, the character in the black hat conjured up by Voice, stumbles, pauses, is impeded by shale and wind. Woburn hides by day, but makes his way through the landscape as evening falls, falling himself, aware of hills on one side, the sea on the other. "There is a choice."

In the light of day, reflecting on the production, Woburn seems pitiable yet mysterious, as he makes his way to the moment when Voice admits, whether to him or the world "At last….we're there" before Woburn floats out to sea and we are bereft of a presence that we did not know was comforting. But in the confines of the enforced cloistral meditation of the performance space, occasional flashes of light only emphasising the isolation and de-humanisation, we are bereft. Not floating towards escape; and without purpose, anchored in nothingness: we have been abandoned. But our journey must continue.

And our decision must be, Gavin Quinn seems to have decided to tell us, whether to finish and therefore rest, …. or what? An infinity of nothingness?

It seems impossible that in stripping back even further Beckett's restless search to move beyond language, a production of Cascando can actually add to its bleak fulfilment. But Quinn, along with Andrew Bennett and Daniel Reardon as Opener and Voice has achieved in this profoundly disturbing theatrical experience of physical disorientation. Designed and lit by Aedin Cosgrove, the sound is by Jimmy Eadie.

* * * * *

Tina's idea of fun isn't very nice: serving up a shit sandwich to a man who has offended her. And she doesn't mean a badly made sandwich. But then life hasn't been nice to Tina: introduced to heroin by her first boyfriend, she's having mixed success in staying off it, and no success at all in staying off the booze. As a result, her 16-year-old son lives with her mother, not with her, and she's miserably aware of her own maternal failings.

Sean P. Summers' new play Tina's Idea of Fun takes us into his preferred territory: the ironically comic side of darkness in inner-city life. It's a toxic mix where employment is more or less unknown from generation to generation, and privilege is represented by finding a new scam to feed drug and alcohol habits. And it begins early, as Tina is miserably aware as she tries pathetically to keep young son Aaron out of the kind of mischief which will plunge him into a future like her own past.

Add in her aggressively malevolent best friend Edel, as well as young Aaron's dopey best mate Bundy, who has even less sense than his buddy, and well-meaning older neighbour Paddy, who lives on knee-jerks.

This being 2011, and the eve of Queen Elizabeth's visit to Ireland, Paddy's current knee-jerk is republican: his feelings are stirred to the quick at the thought of a "party for the Windsors." There's a protest brewing, with Paddy at its enthusiastic centre, so Tina organises a post-protest party, where the inevitable mayhem ensues.

The play is both very funny and full of despair: hope is a very frail flower in this environment. But Summers does need to develop motivation a bit more thoroughly: it's not entirely clear what's underneath most of the aggressive attitudes on display.

Conall Morrison's Peacock production gives the play its full frenetic force, and there are good central performances from Hilda Fay as Tina, and Andrew Connolly as Paddy. But Scott Graham's Aaron and Josh Carey's Bundy both fail utterly to convince as 16-year-olds, and in addition look and sound interchangeable although the author's purpose is to make them a foil for each other. The cast is completed by Keith Hanna, Ruth Hegarty and Sarah Morris.

Sarah Bacon is the designer, Kevin McFadden is responsible for lighting, and sound is by Ben Delaney.

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