The lady in front of me in the queue for Beckett’s trilogy, Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby, told me how “brave” I was to “tackle a Beckett”, which took me by surprise. In the dark about why this should be, I prepared to be enlightened. The darkness soon becomes literal and total.
A set of glowing lips appears, and explodes with a torrent of words and noise, so fast that my head never catches up with the energy and pace. The experience is dizzying, as my brain tries to make sense of what on earth is happening. My eyes draw an outline of a human being in the shadows, moving the lips across the stage. It is only later I learn that Lisa Dwan is strapped still, the sense of movement a result of sensory deprivation.
The next two parts of the trilogy are more comprehensible. The power of the opening minutes gives Dwan full control. Things slow down in the second part, an exploration of loneliness, before the final part addresses the most final of all, death. Though she is allowed to move in the subsequent scenes, she remains constricted, pacing through Footfalls and then confined to rocking on her chair in Rockaby. These exemplify the frustrations of life and death; although we long for things to finish, when we see the end we cling on, despite our pain. Dwan’s Irish voice gives Beckett’s words a musicality I am sure he desired, shaping them and allowing us to follow her spiralling path.
Not I asks questions, the monologue repeating “What?” over 30 times, yet we come no closer to answers. The trilogy is not a conventional story in any sense, but an exposition of life’s fading fragility and anxieties. I was one of the youngest in the audience and the older members all told me they enjoyed Beckett more with age, smiling tolerantly at my interpretations.
I felt they were missing something however. This for me was not a play for the old or the brave. Watching it through my perhaps naïve eyes, I saw the play as a warning, a powerful word of advice from Beckett. I did not feel my youth undermined my empathy.
Perhaps the youthful mouth that longed for moments to go quicker offered the best personification of my youth, but the other two parts were not entirely alien to me. Like the lips, I rush through life frantically, wishing time would hurry and things would end. The elderly lady of Rockaby may be a more distant prospect for me. But as I watched her teetering on the edge between life and death, I too was moved by that urge to cling on to what I have.
Not I asks the questions of youth, but I did not feel I or my older companions came any closer to knowing the answers. Dwan’s talents bridge these moments of life beautifully, translating Beckett’s text into raw and accessible emotion. Leaving, I feel an urgency not to waste what time I have and a little closer to accepting that it all will end. Thank goodness I was not put off “tackling a Beckett”. 4.5/5
Review written by Harry Davies.
Footfalls, Not I and Rockaby are both showing at The Purcell Room (Southbank Centre) until Saturday 30th August. For more information on the production, visit here…