Theatre review: The Beckett Trilogy

by **

Dear Dad

Being a stranger to Samuel Beckett’s works, I had half expected to be irredeemably lost in The Beckett Trilogy. As part of the Melbourne Festival, Melburnians have been offered the opportunity to see three of the 20th century writer’s novels — Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable adapted for theatre.  My trepidation was exacerbated on learning about its three and a half hour duration — startlingly hefty, even if intervals were included.

The stage is barren (save for a single floor-mounted lamp) and pitch (save for a single circle-spot of light). Conor Lovett, the actor, presents himself in the centre of this nondescript setting, clad in a nondescript outfit, wearing a nondescript expression. Nonetheless, his rendition throughout the evening is anything but — nondescript.

In collaboration with director Judy Hegarty LovettConor delivers a standout soliloquy. With a discerning selection of extracts from Beckett’s three novels, the production gives not only a flavour of the author’s literary style but an illuminating insight into his inner sphere.

Famously known as one of the greatest interpreters of Beckett’s works, Conor captivates the audience with his vivid gesticulations, his measured vocal inflections and his lovely crisp Irish accent. His knowledge of Beckett is intimate and his understanding of the man’s work profound. He impresses as having shed his own voice and as having deftly assumed that of Beckett to portray the characters in Molloy, Malone Dies  and The Unnamable in the way Beckett would have him. At times, one wonders whether it is fair to substitute the protagonists variously for Beckett himself. Yet, as often, one wonders how such incoherent narrative and disjointed ramblings could have come from anything other than an unstable mind.

I will not pretend to be cognisant of the work — its breadth of context or its depth of significance. In all honesty, my level of cognition went on an inevitable plunging descent with every progressive story. Molloy depicts a physically and intellectually infirm individual who perceives himself to be the victim of the world — from every person he encounters, every event that transpires to his mother who gave him his unwanted life. The comedy is dark and bitter. In Malone Dies, one sees the character Sapo abruptly renamed as McMahon and his weird experiences with other weird characters. By the time The Unnamable makes his appearance, the weary mind struggles to focus. The narrator laments about energy squandered on telling the stories of Molloy and Malone when he should have been speaking about himself, with himself being the paragon of nothingness.

The essence of The Beckett Trilogy appears to be a plaintive rhapsody on human existence (Molloy), the irrelevance of the physical body to the soul (Malone Dies) and the emptiness of that soul (The Unnamable). The incapacity of language, words or syntax to convey that emptiness demands therefore the (cliched) ‘golden silence’. One wonders whether what Beckett is really saying is that the inadequacy of the human ability to fully articulate human feelings warrants the blank page.

My understanding of The Beckett Trilogy is at best patchy, at worst shambolic. Nevertheless, this effective, if excruciating, production has piqued my interest in the literary giant enough to want to read his actual work and shed all trace of trepidation the next time I encounter Conor Lovett again.

The Beckett Trilogy

the Arts Centre, Playhouse

14-17 October 2010

Thurs, Fri & Sat 8pm

Sun 1pm