Samuel Beckett is known around the world as one of last century’s most influential writers and one of the fathers of the “Theatre of the Absurd”.
Like many young people into the darker, weirder aspects of the arts, I was drawn to Beckett’s work in high school, and so it is an honour to see the State Theatre Company put on not just one but three of his plays in the Beckett Triptych.
You won’t find much hope or happiness, or even light in these plays. The man who brought us the famous “play about nothing”, Waiting for Godot, was very keen on portraying the absurdity of human emotion and futility of life. Cheery, I know, but the short plays in this trio are perhaps some of the most powerful that can be performed on stage.
Footfalls is the story of May, a raggedy woman who has been pacing back and forth for her entire life. She speaks to her bed-ridden mother who only appears as a croaky voice. May constantly talks to herself trying to resolve a problem in her head.
Directed by Geordie Brookman and starring Pamela Rabe as May, this performance is a profoundly engrossing experience. With such simplicity comes the risk of boredom, but the constant nine step shuffle and bizarre, almost meaningless monologues keep you entrenched in the bleak world for the whole thing.
Perhaps the scariest thing about this play is the warping effect of the darkness. Eventually, your vision becomes distorted in the completely black auditorium, until you see nothing but May’s dreary face staring up at you. Utterly chilling.
Corey MacMahon’s version of Eh Joe is perhaps the most visually interesting of the Triptych. It is, again, a simple enough play. Joe (Paul Blackwell) sits alone in a grey room, accosted by an unknown female voice.
This performance takes place behind a screen, reflecting the fact that Beckett originally wrote the piece for television. This, combined with the peculiarly designed room creates a rather confusing sense of depth. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Eh Joe is the fact that Paul Blackwell doesn’t seem to blink for the entire half-hour. It takes tremendous personal strength to act in a Beckett play, even if you don’t have too many lines to memorise!
The final piece in the Triptych, Krapp’s Last Tape (directed by Nescha Jelk), is one of Beckett’s most famous. Krapp (Peter Carroll), repeating his birthday ritual of listening to his taped memoirs, suffers from loneliness, alcoholism and senility. He rants and raves at his young self, eats bananas and revels in the word “spool.”
Krapp’s Last Tape is relatively lively compared to the other two plays. By the time the audience have sat through an hour of existential depression, even the smallest eccentricities of Krapp bring about laughs. Don’t get me wrong, this final piece is just as gloomy as the other plays. Carroll does a fantastic job of bringing Krapp’s emotions to confronting reality, just as Blackwell and Rabe absolutely command their roles through the most minimal of gestures.
Reviewed by James Rudd
Rating out of 5: 4
Venue: State Theatre Company Scenic Workshop & Rehearsal Room, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Street, Adelaide
Season: 20 February – 15 March 2015
Duration: 2 Hours including Intermission
Bookings: Book through the Adelaide Festival online or through BASS online, phone 131 246 (booking fees apply)