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FringeReview UK 2016

Low Down

Judy Hegarty Lovett and Conor Lovett bring the most exotic item of their Gare St Lazare Ireland Beckett in London season to The Print Room’s Coronet in this series of dramatizations of his fiction. Eighty-five minutes sees Here All Night sung, chorused, enacted against a Hardanger fiddle-piano trio.


Gare St Lazare Ireland’s Beckett in London season continues in The Print Room’s Coronet with the most exotic in this series of dramatizating his fiction. Because Here All Night isn’t exactly that. Judy Hegarty Lovett and Conor Lovett bring a team headed by singer Melanie Pappenheim, a six-pack women’s choir and three musicians: Hardanger fiddle player Cleek Schrey, Christopher Allan cello and pianist John-Paul Gandy – a   fjord-edged piano trio. Eighty-five minutes sees Here All Night sung, chorused, enacted, played out.


Oil filters smoke an atmosphere that only slowly clears. A body’s suspended in mid-air literally hovering over proceedings. It emerges in a ghostly rising later. An improvisatory riff by Gandy on the piano, chorded against the strings tuning up, shades in to a performance. It’s a more angular version of minimalist Steve Reich patterned with the strings sounding a bit different: hintting Morton Feldman’s beautiful interminable chamber pieces with granular shifts. All this shades more dissonance than the composers suggested – Schrey’s Hardanger d’Amore with its square bridge and ponticello glassy slides has something to do with it, all sharped to Norwegian folk-tunes, high and icy.


Pappenheim floats in a repeated phrase varied ‘we shall be here all night’ with a piercing lyrical haunt – this theatre’s already thick with it. If you know Meredith Monk (Gandy’s worked with her) or any West coast classical-crossover vocalists you’ll guess the distinction and clarity of Pappenheim’s voice.


Then the chorus drifts in chanting numbers, mainly fifty-two, again a more edgy reminiscence of Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach recently revived at ENO. Six vocalists harmonize smokily and for the audience intimately, from Circle Row B 1-6. A finely-balanced rationale integrates these three components into a convincing aural as well as melodic aesthetic. Lighting and smoke remnants ensure nothing’s aggressively spot-lit but emerges like a penumbra, a sliver of cream light or a grainy halo.


Have we been here before? Conor Lovett does indeed repeat key sex scenes from Malone Dies as well as others we haven’t heard before, and from The Unnammeable. Funniest is his discussion of the two maids, a disquisition on identity and appetite: maid-going and maid-coming; Mary whose appetite is without borders alternately eats onions peppermint onions peppermint onions peppermint onions peppermint…


Repetition of key phrases measures more than tonight’s in-joke: ritual’s invoked and the way Beckett uses it anatomized and realized at its most operatic. It’s not all stillness though. Moments after the final mastication Lovett leaps onto the Circle frontage eyeballing an audience inches away; gasps and laughter amplify his own quiet exhilaration, always from the corner of his mouth.


Lighting glows around that sanctified body, underlining Sam’s All Night Shiner, Beckett’s Wake. It’s named Hello Sam Redux, a sculpture and installation designed by Brian O’Doherty specifically for Easter – Beckett born just before 1906’s feast-date. Lighting plays on it at different junctures to expose impasto’d planes of colour broken with shade. It’s a little like Beckett’s 1965 title evoking prone sculpted bodies: imagination dead imagine, and certainly a prone body from the fictions elsewhere depicted in this series, flickeringly evoked: we’re reminded of The End where the protagonist sinks physically and psychically into silence.


Lovett’s tread like Pappenheim’s along a rhomboid tightrope of light around the body enacts its own rituals, watching over a wake corpse. We’re witnessing a psychic drop in consciousness, rehearsing death. Lovett’s penultimate monologue rehearses various terminal gurgles and screams including the very last, a commedia finito in bleak giggles. Only where he enunciates the end do we know he’ll not come back.


For it’s not simple to navigate the camber of this construct, whether or not the excerpts add up to a narrative, which they do, or how the language of lessness powers silence which we’re treated to as the evening wears itself dry of laughter. Music edges prominence. After Pappenheim’s final singing Lovett too joins her in muted company: the piece rounds itself full circle smoking back to the piano trio, one magnificent cadenza from Schrey’s Hardanger d’Amore, after a final phase-out from the chorus.


Another outstanding phasing is Simon Bennison’s lighting, beautifully chosen, shifting and following; it’s the most mesmerising even in this series.


I was seated next to a Beckett director who’d not seen Lovett comparing him to Patrick Magee and Jack MacGowran, lamenting Beckett’s absence in the mainstream, how we need this quicksilver language. It’s that quicksilvering across smile and forehead that distinguishes Lovett, the willingness to fail and fail better – though no failure attends this hybrid of which this writer entertained questions before seeing it.


Beckett’s texts from certain narratives are easily enough stitched together but the humour – so much of it’s not lost on this audience – and selection is all; these were sovereign. They inhere on Beckett’s confinement, from his first post-war strand of fictional public assistance – and the compelled nature of those like his protagonists who fall off it at the opening of novellas – through his characters’ retreats in later fiction.


Never before have Beckett’s fantastically detailed solipsisms so danced from facial to ensemble movement. Hegarty Lovett’s choreographed as well as directed the most rapturous Beckett cabaret conceivable, using even Beckett’s own music, though it’s difficult to place where.


This series so variously conceived and inflected by Lovett for the most part, surely discloses a lessness somewhere, a slighter text or necessarily realisation of its sliver-ness perhaps; or here in Here All Night a concept not ideally realized in rationale or execution. One did expect this, it’s reasonable. It didn’t happen. Here All Night is in every way a culmination, a visible hommage yes but a distillation too.


Happily Gare St Lazare Ireland distil Beckett on a permanent basis, though not enough are seeing it in London. The marvellous Coronet’s ideal for this project, though with currently 180 seats (only 400 when renovation kicks in) we’re curiously privileged to witness what’s the most consummate, complete and certainly ambitious project to realize Beckett’s fiction – his ‘important work’ – as drama. Whether or not we agree with Beckett on this point, Gare St Lazare resoundingly prove theirs.