Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby to transfer to West End for a limited run
|Lisa Dwan performs in Becket's late plays. Photo: Alastair Muir|
When I was younger, I intensely disliked Samuel Beckett. I found his gloom oppressive and the ambiguity of his writing frustrating.
These days however I hang on to his every word, for there is no better guide to the human spirit’s darker depths and never more so than in this extraordinary triple bill of late works. Taken together, they last only an hour but the experience is profound and deeply moving.
In all three Beckett transports the audience to a strange and mysterious world apparently located at the very brink of death – that “undiscovered country” that Beckett and his characters so often yearn for.
But the evening is far from depressing. There is great beauty in the writing and a determination to stare mortality in the face. All three plays were originally performed by that great actress Billie Whitelaw, who was something of a muse to Beckett, but Lisa Dwan makes the pieces entirely her own with a rapt concentration that holds the audience throughout. [Read More]
|Lisa Dwan readies herself for another demanding performance of Not I. Photo: Finn Beales|
First comes the tar-like make-up, covering the face and neck. Over that goes a blindfold, then a clinging layer of opaque black fabric. The woman climbs a flight of stairs that will position her 8ft above the floor.
Her arms are placed in restraints that hold her body, cruciform, against a board, her head tightly strapped into an aperture. Only her lips, pink and moist in the darkness, are visible.
All that remains is for her to perform a theatrical feat that will last less than nine minutes but was described by Billie Whitelaw, who gave it its British premiere at the Royal Court in 1973, as ‘falling backwards into hell’.
‘I hope it doesn’t feel like a public execution,’ laughs Lisa Dwan.
But anyone who’s caught her performance as Mouth in Samuel Beckett’s brilliant and demanding Not I – which Dwan has been delivering off and on since 2005, notably in last year’s 40th anniversary shows at the Royal Court – can testify to its shattering power.
Alone on stage, the actor performs a breakneck stream-of-consciousness monologue evoking a lifetime of despair, vomited from their mouth spotlit in a dark void. Not surprisingly, it is held to be the most demanding of parts.
For all that, Dwan is returning to it at the Court, performing it alongside two other Beckett shorts, Footfalls and Rockaby, prior to a regional and international tour. [Read More]
|Lisa Dwan as Mouth in Samuel Beckett's Not I. Photo: Finn Beals|
Lisa Dwan delivers a virtuosic performance of three of Beckett's short later works in an extraordinary hour-long experience that feels more like a group hallucination or a troubling collective dream than a theatrical event.
The pieces emerge from and lapse back into a rumbling absolute darkness so dense it's like fur and it's a tribute to the memerising power of Walter Asmus's production that there wasn't a single flicker from a mobile phone or a whispered exchange throughout the proceedings on press night.
The evening kicks off with Not I, the most familiar of the plays, first performed in this theatre forty years ago by Billie Whitelaw. Eight feet in the air, a disembodied female mouth materialises, spotlit in the pitch-black, and spews a fractured steam-of-consciousness monologue in a demented torrent. It's a stage picture that still astonishes – imagine the Cheshire Cat's grin as reinvented by Munch.
Beckett wanted the piece to “work on the nerves of its audience, not its intellect” and stipulated that it should be emitted at “the speed of thought”. Dwan's 9 minute performance is the quickest on record. The woman's plight is grotesquely tragicomic: having spent most of her isolated, loveless life mute, she now finds herself the victim of relentless verbal diarrhoea. Listening to Dwan's unbelievably breakneck, manic Irish-accented gabble is like watching a non-driver trapped at the wheel in a hurtling vehicle with no brakes. The actress, though, is in prodigious control of the material. The woman's recurring denial that she is the subject of her third-person narrative – “what?...who?...no!...she!” escalates, to just right degree here, in desperate, teeth-baring insistence. [Read More]
Lisa Dwan talks to The Guardian
|Lisa Dwan's dressing room. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for The Guardian|
My dressing room is a bit of a sanctuary. It's where I take my anxieties, my sleep and my prayers. It's a kitchen, a dining room and a meeting place. Everything happens there.
Not I is only nine minutes long but it requires a lot of preparation every time. I arrive at the theatre about three and a half hours early and before every show, I'll do a line-run or two, a vocal warm-up, at least half an hour of meditation and then eat early enough to digest my food. The last thing you need is a burp building up!
It took ages to find the right black makeup, because it can't be light reflective. I use a matt grease eyeliner and a thick, grease eyeshadow. On top of that I wear a black eyemask and a pair of tights over my head, then I'm harnessed into a head brace. My neck goes all the time and I've got a hernia from doing this show. I'm a dancer, so I'm used to pushing my body through pain thresholds. I've been on a mission not to be ill. Hence all the over-the-counter meds. It's not like I've got an understudy. [Read More]
Walter Asmus talks to The Economist
|Walter Asmus directs Lisa Dwan during rehearsals. Photo: John Haynes.|
A 73-year-old German living in Berlin, Mr Asmus was told last year about an astonishing nine-minute version of Beckett's "Not I" performed by an Irish actress, Lisa Dwan. (Its most famous performer, Billie Whitelaw, used to do it in 14 minutes.) Ms Dwan has been delivering "Not I", in which memories of childhood and other strangled thoughts are spat out by ghoulishly lit lips in otherwise complete darkness, since 2005. But she had hopes of doing a fuller Beckett programme, and after she had met Mr Asmus, the Royal Court asked him to direct her in two other “dramaticules”, as the playwright called his shorter late pieces, to be put on with "Not I".
So audiences at the Royal Court also got to see "Footfalls", in which Ms Dwan plays May, pacing up and down in dialogue with her mother, and "Rockaby", in which another spectral woman in a rocking chair listens to the musings of perhaps her own ghost. All three plays are being revived from February 3rd for 14 performances at the Duchess Theatre. [Read More]
Reactions from the Royal Court Theatre
The sold out show transfers to the Duchess Theatre in the West End for a limited run, 3-15 February 2014.
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