Sunday 23 October 2016

Theatre Fringe Festival: Beckett in the City towers

Emer O'Kelly

Published 21/09/2015 | 02:30

Big Bobby, Little Bobby
Big Bobby, Little Bobby
Come and Go
You're Not Alone

Sarah Jane Scaife is a recognised Beckett scholar. Such a qualification is not always a qualification to visualise and direct an author's work. But as Artistic Director of Company SJ and its continuing project Beckett in the City, Scaife proves herself a theatre artist of breathtaking talent and compass.

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The staging of The Women Speak (Not I; Footfalls; Rockaby; and Come and Go) in the now almost-derelict premises of the Banba Hall in Colaiste Mhuire in Parnell Square as part of the Fringe Festival is a searing, draining experience, with Scaife's direction of each of the plays offering new insights, no matter how familiar one may be with both text and performance.

The coldly massive rooms, plaster crumbling, floors broken, gaping holes sheeted off, are a testament in themselves to the Dublin in which Beckett learned his anguish; a perfect setting for the actors who cry out from memory and for recognition. In Scaife's hands, this place is both their soul and their body.

Not I begins the programme, with Brid Ni Neachtain as Mouth and Joan Davies as Auditor. Lips garish, Mouth gabbles her haunted memories, a life from which only four incidents survive, crushed for repetition into one of the few occasions when she has brought herself to speak at all; now in old age she seeks forgiveness from a god which has not manifested itself. She feels she must be punished, that god must be angry with her given the misery of her life…and yet she feels no pain, therefore there is no punishment.

Ni Neachtain's cadences are devastating, her hysteria self-mocking, her rush to completion almost a self-imposed bodiless orgasm.

In Footfalls, Scaife has made the decision (sometimes let in doubt) that Mai, pacing like a ghost, now in her forties and unable to leave the house since girlhood when she watched others play lacrosse, is indeed imagining her mother's voice rather than reacting to its reality. Michele Forbes is the recorded voice of Mother, as well as playing May. The nine paces of her terrible, repeated passage across the room, her memories of that extraordinary Beckettian view at the end of the arid emotional microscope, of summer games experienced in tranquillity with Amy and her mother Mrs. Winter…or is that too a cruel self-projection? At one moment, Forbes pauses, her long hand against her lean ghostly face: a moment when it is Edvard Munch's The Scream that flashes lividly in her face. And then there is emptiness; one almost expects clouds of ash to drift in. Except they too are an imagination.

Joan Davis features in Rockaby, a slightly unexpected staging as W does not wear the jet-glittering elderly woman's evening gown specified in the stage directions, but is dressed instead in stark, workaday black. This is a W who in her repeated search before she has sat down to die in her mother's rocking chair, as her mother did before her, perhaps always knew that she would reach the stage where not merely would she not find another "like herself", she never had real hope of seeing even the last flickering hope of another raised blind beyond her window.

The three actors combine for Come and Go, in this production played with entirely acceptable gentle hilarity. When, having exchanged places to allow hushed secrets each about the other, to be exchanged, they join hands and Flo says "I feel the rings", they are in Scaife's choice a bond beyond catastrophe.

Tongue in cheek; voices in the head that don't make anyone commit murder; a happy ending? Can this be modern Ireland in a Fringe Festival production? It is; and it's tender and charming in concept and writing, as well as accomplished and energetic n performance.

Big Bobby. Little Bobby is a Brazen Tales production at Smock Alley by Camille Lucy Ross (who also plays both Bobbies) and Kelly Shatter (who also directs). Big Roberta struggles with the handicap of a monstrous mother who thinks it's funny that her six- -year-old daughter caught her in flagrante with one of a string of "men friends." She also likes playing lurid practical jokes on her hapless daughter, and filming her reaction for later re-play to her men friends. Little Bobby is the voice in Roberta's head which urges her to take understandably violent revenge. Except she doesn't; and she finds that there are people in the world who open their arms without warped spite as their motivation. Virtue is rewarded in the persona of a big, warm neighbour

That's it; and it's funny and lovely.

Kim Noble is an English comedy performer. And one who makes desperation, loneliness, and isolation the material of hilarity. You're Not Alone is his one-hour commentary on the insane, bizarre (and all right, filthy) pre-occupations of a life trying to make connections, even (whisper!) find love. He uses grainy filmed inserts of internet and actual exchanges as part of his performance.

As he mildly tortures his body in close-up, forcing it into various semblances of what he hopes will work, he leaves us bereft, shakily amused, but with a great empty pit of compassion where our stomachs should be. Then he leaves the Peacock Theatre (literally) in his ill-fitting red evening gown, and ambles into the night astride a horse tethered in Abbey Street. And our hearts go with him.

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