Edinburgh Fringe 2010
On a bare stage, Conor Lovett performs Samuel Beckett’s short story First Love, about a man’s tortured relationship with a woman of ill repute and his struggle with his own emotions and his ability to recall correctly the facts of this ‘marriage.’
Like many of Beckett’s narrators, he is nameless and ill-defined, frequently misanthropic and looking back to a distant past to which he describes to us in a bleak present.
Although the narrative is simple, it is the beautifully cadenced rhythms of Beckett’s prose that engage here in a minimal work of storytelling.
Conor Lovett’s performance is wonderfully understated in this monologue of over an hour. Dressed halfway between a business man and tramp, he is the Everyman figure that you might expect to encounter in a Beckettian world. There’s much gallows humour about mortality, bodily functions, and revulsion at the helplessness and loss of control that love brings.
Lovett faces us literally on the brink of a void – struggling to recall memories and details of the relationship, often searching our faces for clues of approbation or agreement. And it is the brilliant, understated comic timing of his performance (and these hesitant, off-kilter silences) that make this such a small gem of a show. The Gare St Lazare Players have managed to bring Beckett’s prose (this isn’t a dramatic text, after all) off the page in a hypnotic way that is complemented by Lovett’s precise but understated physicality, so that with a simple gesture he evokes furniture, trees or the woman Lulu (who he feels compelled to re-name ‘Anna’).
It’s a brave, completely unadorned performance with no set, light or sound to support it, and at one point it’s hard to tell if Lovett has genuinely lost the thread of the text or is part of the act but it doesn’t matter either way – it’s totally in keeping with this faltering confession. Only occasionally does the performance feel off key – as in the rare outburst or the final moments of the production which felt somewhat abrupt.
However, overall this a beautifully pitched production, and the narrator’s guilt and remorse at the end is genuinely moving and cleverly undercuts the laugh out loud humour of his younger, misanthropic self.