Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby at the Royal Court
The Royal Court starts 2014 with a returning one-woman show after Not I’s 40-year revival last year, alongside two other Samuel Beckett monologues: Footfalls and Rockaby. They are performed by an exceptional Lisa Dwan and directed by Walter Asmus, an old friend of Beckett, in collaboration with Mighty Mouth.
We are presented first with Not I, which consists of a plunging blackout and a single beam of light focused intensely on a female mouth that delivers a stream of consciousness at the speed of thought. The pace is particularly violating and almost all the words are swallowed in Dwan’s accent, despite diction being perfectly placed. However, learning that the actress had been coached by Billie Whitelaw who delivered it in 1973 – whom was directed by Beckett himself – suggests this invasive nature of snatched breaths and panicked sharp sentences is meant to be as intensely uncomfortable as it is. It is certainly impressive, the pace that Dwan achieves, but it would be better to hear the language clearly, then the reason for its speed would become more apparent.
Footfalls is tragically slow in comparison, but beautifully so. A young woman called May paces in a strip of light, which is the corridor outside her dying mother’s bedroom. The clip of Dwan’s heels as she walks back and forth is haunting, and resembles painful time passing. She talks to her mother (Dwan’s recorded voice responding) with such mustered thought as is gathered during her consistent pacing. Dwan is just enchanting.
Rockaby again is very slow, and the text very repetitive but for the justifiable reason that is to capture the audience within this prematurely aged women’s loneliness. She rocks, begging for “more!” as again a recorded voice delivers her the story of her end, the story of her waiting to die: “time she stopped.”
You either love Samuel Beckett or you don’t, but there is no denying that he is the master of enticement – through language and pace his themes are laced together. The power of his pauses push you to the edge of your seat: you’re waiting for anything to disturb them and wishful for it to be loud or even comedic to release the tension, but it never comes. He eclectically teases, and it’s masterful. Asmus directs the monologues with sheer respect and grace and the Royal Court confirm themselves as a house of explorers, risk-takers, and celebrators of pure good writing.
Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby is at the Royal Court until 18th January 2014, but transfers to the Duchess Theatre for its West End run from 3rd February 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.