Samuel Beckett
The Lowry, Salford

Production photo

This week in Salford, one of the world's most respected theatre directors brings us a collection of pieces by one of the most significant writers of the twentieth century, performed by three world-renowned actors.

Peter Brook has assembled five of Samuel Beckett's short plays into this hour-long performance. The performers, all former Complicite members, are Jos Houben, Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni.

In the first piece, Rough For Theatre I, Magni is a blind fiddler begging on the streets and Houben, who only has one leg, wheels himself around with difficulty. It seems they are to come to an arrangement where one can be the other's eyes and the other the first's mobility, but conflict sets in and it threatens to end in violence. Hunter performs the solo piece Rockaby, a dense mass of words depicting a character's loneliness, desperation for human contact and memories of her mother's death in the very rocking chair in which she sits.

Act Without Words II begins with Magni and Houben asleep in large sacks. A large stick drops from the sky to wake them one at a time for each to dress, pull them along a bit further down the road and then return to their sack before the other is prodded to do the same. Magni is the grumpy, resentful one, and Houben seems happy with everything in his simple life.

Hunter performs a very short solo piece about indecision, Neither, and then all three performers don thick coats and hats to become old women for the final piece, Come and Go, in which each in turn leaves the other two to say something that even the audience does not hear behind her back.

The three multi-character plays are all extremely funny, although the first becomes more serious and tense later on. Act Without Words II is just pure physical comedy superbly executed by two of the best performers of this type of theatre you could hope to see on a stage. Hunter's solo pieces give a serious tone to punctuate the mainly comic pieces. In her first piece, she looks out at the audience with big appealing, despairing eyes and draws them into her loneliness in a wonderfully riveting performance. In the final piece with the full cast, she uses those big eyes to comic effect as she steals all the biggest laughs in the scene with some hilarious facial expressions.

Although very short, this is a varied and densely-packed piece of theatre showing Beckett's range from poetic despair to knockabout comedy. Of course everything can be seen as a metaphor for something in life, which will no doubt keep the many 'A' Level students in the audience busy for a while, but for the rest of us it is a refreshing, enlightening, funny and extremely entertaining piece of theatre performed just about as well as it could be by a world-class group of actors.

Philip Fisher reviewed this production at the Young Vic Maria Studio, Pete Wood saw it at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, and Jacquline Fletcher at Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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