Not I / Footfalls / Rockaby

Samuel Beckett
The Royal Court Theatre and Mighty Mouth Ltd
The Lowry, Salford

Lisa Dwan in Footfalls
Lisa Dwan in Rockaby
Lisa Dwan in Not I

At the end of a very short tour, and the only dates in the north of England, Lisa Dwan brings her Beckett trilogy, produced by the Royal Court, to Salford.

The audience is warned beforehand that they will be plunged into total darkness—even the emergency lights are turned off—for the 55-minute duration of this performance and anyone who needs to leave at any point should put up his or her hand in order to be helped out. Someone shouted out the obvious question, but it wasn't answered.

The intense darkness of course focuses attention very strongly on the dimly-lit parts of the actor, but it also helps to focus on the quietly spoken words. Every little sound is intensified by restricting the audience's vision.

The opening play, Not I, supplies the poster image of the disembodied red lips (although for some of us it conjures up The Rocky Horror Show). According to the programme / script, the lips deliver "a stream of consciousness at the speed of thought"; what we see is a distant mouth floating high in the air rapidly speaking fragments of sentences with blackness all around.

The words don't make a great deal of sense in isolation, but altogether they sound like a jumble of gossip and thoughts that together do give an impression of how the mind rapidly jumps from thought to thought.

After a few minutes of blackness, Dwan appears in a white dress, pacing slowly but precisely, every footfall sounding clearly. Footfalls shows a relationship between a mother and daughter, with Dwan as May pacing outside her dying mother's door. Their slow, quiet conversation is mostly banalities, but a couple of other scenes, separated by distant clock chimes, bring in memories and conflicts between the two.

The final piece, Rockaby, sees Dwan sat in a rocking chair that rocks more slowly than can be explained by gravity alone, rocking in and out of the dim light. Her recorded voice recites poetic verses, solemnly but lyrically describing the passing of time, of her life, uneventfully, but at the end of each verse she stops rocking and asks for "more"—until the end.

As a performance, it is impressively precise and beautifully played to the minute detail of the writer's wishes (Dwan was coached by Billie Whitelaw, who performed all three pieces and for whom two were written).

Beckett's writing doesn't deliver its meaning up front and so it takes some work to dig through the jumble of poetic, often unrelated words to find the metaphors within—and there's no guarantee of finding meaning in most of the text in performance. There's a rather downbeat undercurrent to his existentialism, however beautifully it is described.

But it's a rare chance to see these pieces performed exactly as the playwright would have wanted with a very impressive, totally committed performance from Dwan.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

Are you sure?