As the name suggests, Shanghai Shakespeare is a Chinese-language theatre company which, although dedicated to performing the plays of William Shakespeare, features other classic authors in their repertoire including Samuel Beckett.
Malone Dies comprises half a dozen extracts from Beckett’s novel performed as a monologue by Thomas Caron. The emphasis is on the author’s jaded view of life rather than the character or the plot. No mention is made of Malone having a sexual relationship with his carer or being a self-confessed murderer and the surreally violent end of the novel is omitted.
Although performed as a monologue, the play is intended as a series of diary entries. There is a quick filmed clip of scribbled pages and Malone enters a Zen-like state of inertia having dropped, and been unable to retrieve for two days, his pencil. The dialogue is, of course, achingly bleak with mention of leaden light that makes no shadow and pain being misted by the passage of years. Malone is happy but not wise because the wise action would be just to give up.
Malone is convinced his death is imminent but isn’t that bothered and plans to pass without enthusiasm. Although his mood is neutral and tepid, he is unforgiving, condemning his enemies to hell. Malone’s petty existence is described in bland detail—method of feeding, how he copes with retrieving lost objects. Malone boils down life into crude necessities—eating and excreting—concluding it doesn’t matter if he lives or dies, he will go on as always, not knowing why.
Thomas Caron stages the monologue in a minimalist fashion. Only with the third extract—where Caron leans forward conspiratorially—is there any sense of trying to engage with the audience. In the main, Malone remains aloof, against a stark background, lost in his reverie, giving the impression for him the audience is unimportant.
There is a moment of unintentional humour it is hard to ignore. Caron wears a dark robe, has long grey hair and a scraggy beard and holds a shepherd's crook. When standing, therefore, he has an uncanny resemblance to the film version of Gandalf.
There is surprising, overt Christian imagery in the film. Malone at one point speculates on the resurrection at Easter and, with "Abide with Me" playing in the background, consciously strikes a cruciform pose.
Samuel Beckett’s works are a major challenge for a fringe company, yet with Malone Dies, Shanghai Shakespeare gives a taste of the bleakly beautiful tone of the author.
Reviewer: David Cunningham