Browse reviews

FringeReview UK 2016

No’s Knife

Old Vic

Genre: Drama, International, Mainstream Theatre, Solo Performance, Theatre

Venue: Old Vic


Low Down

As co-director with Joe Murphy with design by Christopher Oram, this offering at the Old Vic finds Dwon more elaborate, less fleet than her trilogy of texts two years ago. Lisa Dwon has stitched five narratives from Beckett’s thirteen Texts For Nothing.


Lisa Dwon has stitched five narratives from Beckett’s thirteen Texts For Nothing producing another extraordinary immersion, confirming her as the finest living Beckett interpreter alongside (if anyone) Conor Lovett.


As co-director with Joe Murphy with design by Christopher Oram, this offering at the Old Vic finds Dwon more elaborate, less fleet than her trilogy of texts two years ago. More stamped with her own ‘fail better’ conception Dwon takes more risks even than before too. These texts, not dramatic but fictions, were nevertheless eagerly projected by Beckett for dramatic life in the 1980s, and Dwon’s presentation is indeed more faithful than the one presented in 1984 which spliced other material – surprisingly not to Beckett’s displeasure.


Dwon’s first appearance swims behind Andrzej Goulding’s video which intersperses scene changes. She’s immersed vertically in a bog, it seems, a rock and a mulchy place. Dwon has talked of how she had to memorialise all texts – not perhaps marmorialise as the ‘Beckett Church’ she disclaims, wants. Beckett in these texts allows a genderless freedom, and Dwon’s steer is voices: one analogy are those of immigrants and dead children which hit her like the bog people of Tolland elsewhere in the first piece.


Its first deliberate picked-through words ‘I am down in the hole the centuries have dug…saffron waters slows drifts’ evoke in this reading coppery Tolland bodies centuries old, certainly in Beckett’s terms the nameless voiceless dead Dwon’s vertical perilousness suspends – at ninety degrees to the gravity she invokes.


Dwon’s way with the cycle is very different to how she differentiated the other notated pieces in 2014. She slows the narrative with eddies gaps and gasps that allow ghosts to enter and the very narrative to trickle with its own soft mulchy tread, with a few Beckett switchbacks. Words ripple up from a flooded mine of lung. Directorially Dwon has to rely on her own instinct and deep reading inspired by her late mentor Billie Whitelaw.


The next scene’s the most concrete and – despite what’s being asserted – most gendered. An old man now on a Ground Zero of boulders and plashy places recalls comically at one point service with Admiral Jellicoe (he of the 1916 Battle of Jutland) and an arquebus is plucked ceremoniously as ancient ordinance and pure imaginary noun: the ditherings and misdirections of ambulant age stagger before us: Dwon dissolves for another aerial flight, this time swung in a cage out of Francis Bacon’s screaming popes. It’s a trial cage, and legalities like ice slivers penetrate the curious rise and fall of Dwon’s paces.


The final text finds us in the fourth piece of the thirteen, the most celebrated giving the title of the whole. ‘Where would I go, if I could go, who would I be, if I could be, what would I say, if I had a voice, who says this, saying it’s me?’


Jerks and whorls of isolation project Dwon at one point onto a promontory where she apparates in the midst of the first rows more haunted by the negative No’s and ‘No’s Knife, in Yes’s wound…’ where to be haunted down if not hunted down for daring out of not-being enacts some original transgression, a self-cancellation from one’s own negative and here again gendered male, though the sheath the actor is again ambiguous. Dwon here both speeds up some delivery but on the whole the pace slows throughout. The end’s certainly sudden in its implications.


We’re enormously privileged to be living in such a rich age of Beckett performance, and here, a soaring creative response Beckett encouraged has claimed these texts as dramatic. It’s impossible to imagine these rendered better, such is the arch and shudder, the range and plangency of Dwon’s delivery. There’s a pause to these words, a natural breath deeply reading itself that only makes me query whether the pace might be a little quicker. In one sense the narratives were more difficult to follow than Not I, where the lightning connectives made a sense. Here they very occasionally teeter on the verge of crumbling apart in one’s hands like the lost bog people. However, Dwon’s perfectly in control.


Somehow Dwon avoids this dissolution with her tensile strength and staggered, staggering vocal range, brushed with a tang of mortality. It’s all the more astonishing then to learn that she’s suffering from pneumonia and flu. Such details aren’t normally the stuff of reviews, but they’re of the spirit of such flaming testimony as we see here, and someone must record them.