Browse reviews

FringeReview UK 2016

Low Down

Judy Hegarty Lovett and Conor Lovett bring their Gare St Lazare Ireland Beckett in London season to The Print Room’s Coronet in a series of dramatizations of his fiction. Eighty minutes sees The End enacted.


The Print Room’s Coronet continue hosting the Beckett in London season in a series of dramatizations of his fiction. Judy Hegarty Lovett and Conor Lovett bring their Gare St Lazare Ireland. Eighty minutes sees The End enacted in greater naturalism than we’re used to.

In The End is Beckett’s beginning straight after World War Two, with only Murphy behind him. It’s also the faultline of his crossing from writing in English to writing in French, which switch he effected in this piece. It takes its trajectory from Beckett’s own release from a Normandy hospital just as the nameless hobo is forced to quit the religion-administered institution he’s comfortable in. Lovett here confides with his habitual hesitation and undercutting of the Beckett pause.

This is where to start with Beckett, and Lovett’s narration with just two benches as props (there are none in the Trilogy) introduces us to Beckett’s world of Not-ness, of reductions.

Broadly the protagonist fixated on the minutiae of his own functions is forced – with a sum of money vouchsafed him – to seek a basement flat in a city he swears has changed vastly in some detail before slipping in that it may be a different city. He’s defrauded of his savings by the Greek or Turkish landlady who sells the house from under his prone feet and he’s turfed out, first to another dweller in a cave shared with an ass and a cow who resists his attempts to milk her (‘she’ll tell all the others now..’), then a shed and finally a boat which sinks.

It’s Beckett’s genius for the qualification, often deployed by Lovett as pause, which produces not simply laughter but a disconnect of unreliable narration. Lovett occasionally adverts to a technique he uses extensively in the Trilogy, of sudden drying, as if forgetting his way and needing a key word from the audience.

Here, there’s more naturalism to the extent that other voices interact with the protagonist, most notably the incident when as a beggar collecting coins that children snatch he’s picked on by a loud-mouthed bigot as an example of wretched sub-humanity and example of what to avoid. Lovett’s voice here skirls in a raw-edged blistering of the helpless by the well-fed. The protagonist merely surmises – probably rightly – the man’s unhinged, differently then to him.

The trajectory of the hapless narrator’s arc is a paring-down of possibilities. From his effectual expulsion for being just fit enough to make his way to a stumbling grave, the newly-clothed man in second-hand garb that eventually stretches to fit him, has to make the world stretch too. It seems however too vast and too small. His loss of money, his gradual slipping to a poor forked animal less and less domiciled, is both appalling and of course appallingly funny in Lovett’s often lively then imperceptibly fined-down stance. Lovett stills his body towards the end of the narrative, concentrating, still comically, on the vanishing-point of consciousness.

What we’re witnessing, as Lovett knows well, is a key shift from the last of early Beckett to mature protagonist. By the end of The End, we’re even closer to the Trilogy.

Beckett’s traced his own alternative narrative, that of a man without Beckett’s compelling need to write and gift of transubstantiation (to use a Catholic term on the Protestant-reared, Catholic-infused Beckett). Lovett embodies not yet a generic Beckett type (as vulgarly understood) but a man emasculated by institutional life forced, like the evictions in Britain of those inured to asylums, to ‘integrate into the community’ conveniently dying before making safe houses they’re summarily ordered to report to with no further aid. There is then a socially-specific element, developed more obliquely in both Molloy and particularly Malone Dies.

Lovett’s clearly enjoying this early more apparently relaxed telling. It’s anything but, of course. In its detailed dishevelment of senses, minor aspirations and a man shorn of the hope of minor comfort Lovett fines down the voice as an instrument of living.

Because of the interaction with a variety of curmudgeons and ill-wishers from the institute director Weir through the landlady, her successor, boys, the bigot and even the cows and asses, Lovett’s flinch from humanity is more active than at any time other than the single menace of the psychotic Lemuel in Malone Dies. There is here more to flinch from in a thousand cuts.

What Lovett conveys in this text is pause on each response: the narrator’s sense of the absolute reasonableness of everyone’s point of view but his own. Weir’s demand that he leave slightly earlier than six pm since the sun’s come out, dimly, seems fair. The new house-owner discovering that the narrator’s money has all been stolen days earlier by the landlady in a pretence of advance payment for a house she’ll no longer own, seems perfectly within his rights to refuse the narrator further use of the basement where he’ll stow his pig instead, even though the narrator offers to share, or go to a tiny corner. On each of these retreats marked by a cracked half smile, there’s a pause and then a dignified withdrawal. Even begging’s nuances are tricked to precision, neither servile nor cocky but a half-cocked tilt of the cap. These are textually immutable points if not edited out – one of the telling elements of this production also worth celebrating, retention of significant detail. Here the text’s inflected with the actor’s light telling that refuses to weigh itself down yet with a corner of the mouth each has withered its arrival and struck further; Lovett is further slowed, further steps backwards. He shrugs these accretions with something perilously close to hapless charm. Yet they’re killing him into a corner.

As he nears the end of his narrative, the narrator doesn’t even move much to avoid fouling his own nest. We shudder, because someone has done this for us. Lovett’s particular brilliance here is to dissolve at the end of The End.

Lighting here’s more constant than the shafts of the Trilogy bespeaking the light of uncommon day. Schnittke’s Violin Sonata Quasi una Fantasia shades in at the beginning but it’s right it doesn’t return. Lovett never leaves the circle this time though he moves around, always ranging eyes over the audience. Again an outstanding uncluttered production of an outstanding performance. Nothing gets in the way, which can terrify us clean with laughter.