Beckett Trilogy: Molloy / Malone Dies / The Unnamable

Samuel Beckett
Gare St Lazare Ireland
The Coronet Theatre

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Conor Lovett in Beckett Trilogy Credit: Ros Kavanagh
Conor Lovett in Beckett Trilogy Credit: Ros Kavanagh

Directed and designed by Judy Hegarty Lovett, exquisitely played by Conor Lovett, with lighting by Simon Bennison, the Beckett Trilogy was first performed by Gare St Lazare Ireland in 2001. No wonder Lovett’s one-man performance is so finely nuanced—he’s had time to polish it, make it his own. He has us eating out of his hands—for three hours. It’s a masterclass.

The words must be muscle memory now. And what a memory... He leaves himself a way out of memory, as in character he seems to be forgetting where he is going with the story / stories / reminiscences / fabrications, a man who questions veracity. And self-critiques with “this is awful”.

I am bowled over. The full texts are edited and contracted—and brought to life in a confessional manner. We are complicit just by being here. We laugh, of course. He draws us in with his open face, a wink and a nod. Physical theatre, but oh so subtle. Nothing is rushed. The spoken word has time to sink in.

Carefully structured and paced by the director and actor, who have pared the texts, with permission from the Estate of Samuel Beckett, to manageable size, Molloy is one hour, Malone Dies fifty-five minutes and The Unnamable forty, this is storytelling at its best.

Into a circle (Rodchenko’s White Circle of 1918 comes to mind) of light on a black stage steps a tramp in two overcoats, trousers too short, old boots. His face expressive, his hands and body more so: he addresses us as if practising for the day of judgement. Molloy is talking to and about himself.

He relishes phrases, rolls them around his tongue, finding the double meaning in them. He brings life’s inherent bittersweet, surreal humour to life. Don't we all think of Beckett as bleak, yet there’s comedy in these interior monologues, this stream of consciousness, which helps the bitter pill of unfathomable life to slip down.

All originally written in French then rewritten in English by himself, Molloy was written in 1951, Maloney Dies in 1958 (in French in 1951), The Unnamable in 1960 (in French in 1953) in the same period as Waiting for Godot. He admits to being influenced by James Joyce—how could he not be—and by Dante.

He wouldn't put a label on his style, wanting to have no style, but when one looks at his milieu, we see theatre of the absurd and existentialism and modernism. And we see his influences passed on. The axe murders in Malone Dies could be Pinter. And those pauses, thinking space or sinister overtones? But I digress, as does he, going round and round with his stories. Rewriting them, reshaping them, changing names. Is anything true?

For Malone Dies, Lovett stands in a square of light, which expands. In The Unnamable he is a black, sinister silhouette against a door of light projected on to the height of the back black curtain. Bennison’s lighting is part of the choreographed dance of life and death.

Life is incomprehensible—the police that stop him, the impermeable TLS supplements that warm him in the cold weather, Mrs Loy or is it—her name changes—and her dog that he kills with his bicycle, fortuitously. Chance, you see, can do us favours.

“This time I know where I’m going. I shall forgive no one.” “No matter” is a common refrain. His disease is “earnestness’ he says in Malone Dies. “I was always subject to the deep thought.” Lovett make it seem as if he is making it up on the hoof. Ageing bodies copulating, sperm, bodily functions, testicles, nothing is too taboo to address. Words are his existence.

But the stories fall away in The Unnamable—he questions his “I”. “I of whom I know not”. The performance is stiller, more buttoned up, as is his overcoat. He questions everything: “what am I doing?” He strays out of the light, comes back, stands still for a long time. Looks back. “There’s a story for you”. It’s more interior than the other two. And ends with the famous lines: "you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on". He slips away. To a standing ovation.

The run is sold out, standing places have been added. I saw Gare St Lazare Ireland’s How It Is (Part 2) at this theatre in 2022, but missed Lovett who was indisposed. Stephen Dillane had to turn a two-man show into a one-man. Now, I am so pleased I have caught up with the elusive Lovett in his one-man monologues with their casts of leery characters. It was worth the wait.

The 195-seater theatre is the perfect backdrop for Beckett’s Trilogy, which he considered ‘the important work’. Written not long after the Second World War, in which he played a part in the French Resistance, despair is leavened with farcical humour. Life makes no sense to these men, shape it how they may: hospitals, hospice or asylum, death awaits us all.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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