FringeReview UK 2016
Max Stafford-Clark brings Out of Joint’s smash of Beckett’s first radio play from the Eniskillen Beckett Festival to the Arts Theatre. Blindfolds will be issued.
Out of Joint led by Max Stafford-Clark bring their staging of Beckett’s first radio play, which began at the Eniskillen Beckett Festival to its final leg at the Arts Theatre.
Its format has obscured it yet Michael Billington proclaims it Beckett’s finest; it’s certainly his most accessible.
Travelling a long way then not to see the production was one of the more piquant moments experiencing this always tricky-staging of Beckett’s 1957 radio classic. He almost completely vetoed this: casualties include Ingmar Bergman and Olivier.
When Stafford-Clark approached Edward Beckett, asked for his vision, he said ‘there is no vision’ – the right answer. Stafford-Clark sashays between Trevor Nunn’s staging it as a radio play and Ireland’s Pan Pan who staged it in total darkness with pre-recorded voices, or at Battersea Arts Centre, actors in darkness trailing along guide ropes.
Here, the audience adopts blindfolds to be immersed in the ambient thrill of actors brushing past speaking; far off or a moment later, in their ear. Dark laughter becomes laughter in the dark.
The plot’s simple. Quixotic commanding Mrs Rooney makes her way to a rural railway station cajoling lifts, to collect her blind husband. There’s a delay. After he arrives, dominating her, they refract memories and cultures. Finally the reason for the delay Mrs Rooney insists on knowing – one only too common today – ends the work.
There’s weather here, including ‘tempest of wind and rain’ latterly, something we don’t encounter much of in Beckett. It’s also relatively specific, set in Beckett’s own 1920s village of Foxrock; it’s funny too. Stafford-Clark, a rail-engine aficionado, even catches these makes of locomotives, steaming across the space an aural spectacular designed by Dyfan Jones. Mrs Rooney reflects often on her girth, on deprivation, including sexual. Later her husband looks forward to more faculties going, happy oblivion. A racecourse clerk asks if she’s going in his direction. ‘I am, Mr Slocum. We all are’ which like much more Beckett these days, raises gentle laughter.
The way Maddy Rooney played like a banished Old Woman of Beare by Brid Brennan cajoles wheedles and laughs her way up and off seats with a raucous ‘oh glory’ suggesting sexual pleasure manhandled upwards, is part of the cheer of this downwards-all-the-way narrative. Brennan consummately breathes out – one might almost say leaks – Mrs Rooney. Mr Slocum who gives Mrs Rooney her lift adds: ‘I’m as stiff as yourself.’ A fantastical assortments of squeaks and aural shunts create a sonic spectacle again reinforcing a race to the bottom line – Mrs Rooney’s buttocks are a source of quizzing by her husband.
Contrary as ever, she doesn’t greet Dan Rooney (Gary Lilburn) ecstatically, refusing a kiss in public. Rooney’s way with allusion is mildly hieratic, they being yoked in backwards-forwards motion ‘like Dante’s damned, all arsy-versy. Our tears will water our bottoms.’ Lilburn suggests he can eventually quell his wife with a sneer of intellect that holds almost to the end. But there’s darker play in Rooney hearing Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet playing, or the boy Jerry’s reporting that his father was ‘taken away’. The title too ‘The Lord upholdeth all that fall’ bespeaks the Protestant enclave Beckett grew up in and the bleak consolations of the King James.
It’s a fine cast more difficult to distinguish between, though in addition to Brennan and Lilburn, Ciaran McIntyre’s Mr Slocum deserves mention for his long-suffering good-natured odyssey with Brennan’s impossible character. Exhilarating great theatre, well worth not-seeing.