Thursday 18 January 2018

dublin fringe festival rough for theatre I/ act without words II

john mckeown

various venues

Wrap up warm for this one. Company SJ/Barabbas has commandeered an unroofed run-down car park on City Quay for its Beckett double-bill. It's big, it's dark, it's cold – the free cocoa between the performances helps – but it works wonderfully.

Director Sarah Jane Scaife's intention is to "reinsert" Beckett's writing "within the architecture and social spaces of Dublin" and for once a production actually does what it says on the flyer.

Beckett's unnamed characters emerge from the dark like animated excrescences, their words given extra bite by the cold air, the world they describe an echoing derelict reality around us. The performances feel so much part and parcel of the environment that when some teenage girls on a nearby street start screaming it feels like Beckett wrote them in.

They're two formally contrasting pieces. Rough For Theatre I feels very much like Endgame territory. There's the sense of some catastrophe which has denuded the world of people. It's difficult to tell whether it's night or day. The motion of the Earth itself seems to have stalled. But of course, this being Beckett, any planetary catastrophe is going to play second fiddle to the ineradicable self-centredness of his protagonists.

A talkative one-legged man in a wheelchair tempts, cajoles, and generally provokes an old, blind violin player. Nothing works with the old cynic until the cripple excites his salivatory glands with the mention of baked beans. We're off then on a typical desultory Beckettian power-struggle dominated by weariness, boredom, ineptitude and contempt.

The play is typical and also typically evocative, funny, and despite the bleakness of this wrestling match between these dregs of humanity, perversely reassuring. Raymond Keane and Trevor Knight are grittily excellent as the cripple and the violinist, who, despite perhaps being the last men in the world, remain stubbornly disunited.

Keane surfaces again in Act Without Words II, coming out of the cocoon-like warmth of a ratty red sleeping bag with all the quivering ungainliness of a newly hatched bird.

Though it becomes apparent that this act of emergence is a monotonously recurring one. He emerges, pops a couple of pills, tries to eat a carrot, tries to pray, gets shakily dressed, and after shifting his partner around in the other sleeping bag, goes back into his foldable womb.

While he's vegetating, his partner goes through the same act, though with ludicrous vigour. Bryan Burroughs is the partner, the organised type whose toothbrush, map, compass, and determination only provide an alternate version of the futility of action.

Act, a visual metaphor, is without words, but both these short pieces speak volumes.

Irish Independent

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