It was with some trepidation that I went along to the Beckett Triple Bill at the Jermyn Street Theatre. I was (whisper it) a Beckett virgin, and felt somewhat daunted by the theatrical esteem in which the great man is held.
The evening began with Krapp’s Last Tape. An elderly man is at a desk in a pool of light cast by a solitary overhead lamp, aiming to record his annual tape. First though, he retrieves and plays a tape from thirty years before in which he also recounts earlier times; the death of his mother, a young love and so on. In this manner we see the man he has become, as well as glimpses of his younger selves. James Hayes is wonderfully funny as the irascible Krapp. Looking back on his life from the perspective of older age with surprise, sadness, cynicism and contempt, harrumphing at his young romanticism, we see how life events have altered him.
There was a similar theme in Eh Joe. We watch Joe sitting on his bed, taunted by memories playing in his mind. He doesn’t speak; just reacts to a woman’s voice reminding him of past events, in particular a suicide. A close-up image of his face is projected onto the wall behind so we can perceive how the spoken words touch him. Lisa Dwan is never seen but her voice, with its Irish lilt, is hypnotic as she persistently reminds him of things he would surely much rather forget. Niall Buggy is mesmerising as Joe. Watching memories play over his face in intimate detail, seeing his tears spill, feels as though we are prying into intensely personal territory.
Finally came The Old Tune with Niall Buggy and David Threlfall as Mr Gorman and Mr Cream, gentlemen in their seventies who meet accidentally and settle themselves on a park bench to reminisce. Their conversation is punctuated by loud traffic passing by; a sign of the times and so-called progress.
The humour is bittersweet. Their memories disagree on dates of past events and they struggle to recall the names of people and places; who married who, who died, who divorced. We hear about the full lives they have led and the changes they have seen with the passing years; sweethearts, war, wives, children, deaths, grandchildren, culminating in the frustration and reluctance of being reliant upon others. Where they sit used to be banks of bluebells in springtime, but this has given way to busy roads and new housing: the inevitable march of time.
Beckett offers us a perspective that we may all reach at some time, but which most of us try desperately not to consider while we are wrapped up in our busy lives.
Written by: Samuel Beckett
Directed by: Trevor Nunn
Produced by: Jermyn Street Theatre
Box Office: 020 7287 2875
Booking Link: https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/beckett-triple-bill/
Booking Until: Saturday 8 February 2020