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FringeReview UK 2024

Low Down

Judy Hegarty Lovett and Conor Lovett return with their revival of Gare St Lazare Ireland’s Beckett Trilogy to The Coronet. It was last seen here in 2016. Three hours for the Trilogy comprising Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable.

It’s reading Beckett in flashes of lightning and laughter. Lovett stuns in this cut-down stand-up Beckett-novels-for-beginners-and-enders three-hour whistlestop. A tour de force as well as a tour de farce of Beckett’s genius.


Writer Samuel Beckett, Texts selected and treated by Conor Lovett and Judy Hegarty Lovett, Directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett, Performed by Conor Lovett, Lighting Design by Simon Bennison, Assistant Lighting Design Jonathan Chan, Production Assistant Matt Scaburri.

Produced by Maura O’Keeffe and Gare St Lazare Ireland

Till June 22nd


It’s reading Beckett in flashes of lightning and laughter. Gare St Lazare Ireland with directors Judy Hegarty Lovett and Conor Lovett return with their Beckett Trilogy to The Coronet: last seen here in 2016. Lovett again performs.

Last here in 2022 for How It Is Part 2, this biennial Gare St Lazare event takes on the force of pilgrimage.

Three hours might seem a little brief for the Trilogy comprising Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable – which craics in at thirty-five minutes. As a whistle-stop Beckett stand-up it can hardly be bettered as Conor Lovett narrates the personae of this interlocking trilogy (which might be a sequence of five difficult pieces if we take two later fictions as connected).

Hegarty Lovett’s direction and Simon Bennison’s lighting (assistant Jonathan Chan) are seamless. A subdued ring of light for Molloy; an institution-constrained square for Malone Dies; for The Unnameable a single intense bar throwing shadow, out of which Lovett moves, partly or fully obliterated.

Light here sets the bounds on story. First, a circling picaresque compromised by a “sick leg” but free, if somehow tethered. Then institutionalized. Finally it’s the liminal state of what Beckett later called “ imagination dead imagine”. As intro there’s an unexpected breath of Gorecki’s Symphony No 3 ”Symphony of Sorrowing Songs” – the lamenting second movement. Words though furnish their own intercession. It doesn’t intrude.

Molloy, first, longest at an hour and most accessible, originally falls into two parts. The second, a report on Molloy by some Jesuistical secretary is understandably shorn. Lovett proceeds by both Beckett’s indirections – full of significant pauses to guy statements with their comic qualifications – “or not” or Lovett’s own. Late in Molloy, and early in Malone Dies he loses his way, invoking audience aid to remind him of what he was not saying: “the telling” loses him twice.

Molloy recalls the “impossibility of avoiding charity” in his progress to his mother’s house. Close in age they’re mistaken as a couple. She calls him Dan or Da, he Mag, or Ma. Lovett smiles puckishly delivering Molloy’s: “It is in the tranquility of decomposition that I remember the long confused emotion which was my life, and that I judge it, as it is said that God will judge me, and with no less impertinence.“ Different to Pope’s pithy “That long disease, my life” Lovett walks a tightrope of light and dark on that last clause, teetered on his half-smile. It’s typical.

Molloy adverts to numerical research to record 315 farts in 19 hours, only four every 15 minutes, “hardly… any at all”. The papers he uses for warmth or toilet paper – the TLS is finest, dense and abrasively useful. Alas he accidentally presents a used wodge to a policeman and is almost arrested. As he is for accidentally killing a dog – on its way to be put down and hence saving a bill. This telegraphs a relationship Lovett here has to elide.

The now hatted speaker known as Malone proceeds by fable, his own life under another name, a brief reference to Lambert the pig-slayer that vanishes and settling on the main narrative after Lovett evokes laughter with more animadversion on memory; and narratorial reluctance. McMahon is one of five particularly helpless inmates of a home of uncertain vintage.

There’s an almost incongruous intrusion (for Beckett) of aeroplanes: a childhood memory of one looping-the-loop, one now above at 400mph. It’s a slap of time in the timeless.

And there’s Molly. After sex she declares: “If only we’d met sixty years ago.” The sadistic keeper Lemuel has murderous intent and finally on a command trip to an island on a boat he enacts this. Lovett too leaps out of the stage in an unexpected access of breaking the circle of the Coronet’s mesmeric small O.

Lovett has differentiated the two characters but in truth it’s relatively difficult if you’re using similar comic techniques to render the very real humour Beckett undercuts his readership with. Beckett too was always open to – though rigorous about – adapting fictions – his ‘important work’  – for the stage.

Lovett deploys an increasingly impersonal voice throughout. Laconic Molloy moves to the interleaved third-person McMahon. Finally Lovett distils a disavowing voice from Purgatory.

The Unnameable is then different. Presented here as a far shorter rendition of that disembodied spirit, a kind of Not-Sam who in fact sees all Beckett’s previous protagonists from 1938 onwards: “All these Murphys, Molloys and Malones do not fool me.”

The lighting which till now suffuses those Molloys and Malones with intensifying, shrinking light here becomes a shaft down which Lovett walks, to be reflected vastly on a backdrop in giant shadow like a puppet-show. That’s where comedy ends and unpicking shadows is deathly serious.

Tenebrous almost disembodied, Lovett relates with far less – not however extinct – humour in a more rapid, less accommodating delivery the non-existence he sees embodied around him. The mode invokes the spirit (as it were) of those late Patrick Magee performances Beckett presided over. This uningratiating sliver distils the Beckett we know from dramas. Indeed this novel is allowed a wafer of devastation: the temperature drops. “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” A shift masterly and necessary.

For this space this can’t be bettered. There may be an argument for presenting all three fictions on consecutive nights; perhaps there’s just a little too much lost. Single immersion though holds a greater truth.

After the lightning, we can read what the thunder said ourselves. There’s a CD of Lovett’s Molloy. The Becket Trilogy as presented here by the marvellously pause-prone Lovett is miraculous and faultless, funny and revelatory, immaculate as much as any three hours of prose Beckett can be. With Lisa Dwan Lovett is the finest living Beckett interpreter, who understands – crucially – a tour de farce is as necessary as a tour de force. Outstanding.