There is probably a caveat to begin with; you should have an idea of what you are getting into when you take your seat for this production. I had booked for the original run before Covid impacted, so I was delighted to see it return.
How It Is (Part 2) is a straight run lasting two hours thirty-five minutes – without an interval – of Samuel Beckett, accompanied by the Irish Gamelan Orchestra. Stephen Dillane and Conor Lovett deliver an ongoing stream of consciousness around a bizarre life, struggling to live in the mud and the darkness. There are no characters; this is not a simple play with a simple story – it defies explanation. It is intense, taxing, and it is not surprising that one of the biggest laughs is when there is a small tea-break somewhere vaguely in the middle. It is a moment’s relief; a moment where repeated and repeated and often impenetrable dialogue is not flying fast; a moment to take a breath before we go again.
This is a tough play: it is meant to be. It is hard to connect with the play: it is hard to find any emotion – it might even be cold. I’m pretty sure I admire it even more than I enjoyed it, and I did enjoy it. The memorisation by Dillane and Lovett is quite simply exceptional, and this is matched by their delivery. They are a joy to watch.
The Coronet, a theatre with so much character itself, looks absolutely amazing. Walking into the auditorium, where this is performed in the round, and seeing the setup is quite something. It becomes even more so when you realise it is entirely set for the Irish Gamelan Orchestra.
The orchestra is led by Mel Mercier and the play opens with a song from Claudia Schwab. The music is beautiful, powerful and at points utterly chaotic. Lovett is drowned out, deliberately, by the increasing orchestral sound and it’s impossible to know if he is trying to shout over the orchestra or they are trying to drown him out. It is a rare moment, where two participants are taking part at the same time; interacting, each trying to perhaps overcome the other.
The two actors perform most of the play not on the stage but roaming the aisles; standing, sitting, kneeling, stretching on the handrails, sitting in audience seats. There are only a couple of scenes, mere minutes in a long play, where they are acting together. Each is delivering their own dense, wordy monologue with almost no interaction. These monologues duel, contradict, complement, overlap and most of all repeat and repeat and repeat. The intensity is high throughout but it reaches a new level when the lighting shifts and the monologue is half a metre away from you within the stalls – in my case Lovett so close; looking around and then at me and demanding my attention.
This is a unique production. My guess is that if it sounds like your thing, you will love it: it will deliver for you in spades and you will walk out and remember this evening for years to come.
Written by: Samuel Beckett
Directed and Designed by: Judy Hegarty Lovett
Produced by: Gare St Lazare Ireland and The Coronet Theatre in association with The Everyman (Cork)
Music composed by: Mel Mercier and the Irish Gamelan Orchestra
Music performed by: Mel Mercier, the Irish Gamelan Orchestra, Cathal Roche and Claudia Schwab
Lighting designed by: Simon Bennison
Produced by: Maura O’Keeffe
How It Is (Part 2) plays at The Coronet Theatre until 7 May. Further information and bookings can be found here.