Samuel Beckett's 'Not I' at London's South Bank

A new production
Samuel Beckett. Photograph by Guy Suignard
Nicholas Lezard has reviewed a recent production of Samuel Beckett's Not I, performed as part of the South Bank's 2009 London Literature Festival. The performance was followed by a short film in which Billie Whitelaw, too unwell to appear in person, discussed the difficulty of the role and her memories of Beckett's guidance as director. Lezard seems to have had an enjoyable evening:
I defy anyone to come up with a more intense theatrical experience than Samuel Beckett's Not I. In otherwise complete darkness, a disembodied female mouth, known as Mouth, about eight feet above the stage, delivers a hyper-rapid stream of consciousness, a mixture of reminiscence and evasion, an existentially terrifying babble, hinting at deep trauma and extinction of self.

The key word here is "disembodied", for Beckett said the piece is to be delivered as quickly as possible, "at the speed of thought". It is as close as the theatre will ever get to representing a mental interior. But it is a ruined interior, inspired by the woman covering her ears in Caravaggio's Decollation of St John the Baptist, and the numberless muttering old crones whom one sees in the streets ("Ireland is full of them," Beckett said).

We learned a lot about the theatrics of Not I during yesterday's performance by the Irish actor Lisa Dwan, for the South Bank's 2009 London Literature festival. Not just in the performance, which was more than remarkable, but in the short film in which Billie Whitelaw – sadly, too unwell to appear in person – talked about the role, and her memories of Beckett and his direction; and in the final question-and-answer session, chaired by the theatre critic Michael Coveney. [...]