No’s Knife at the Old Vic Theatre
Renowned existentialist author, poet and playwright Samuel Beckett is considered a pioneer of the so-called “Theatre of the Absurd”. Attending a showing of No’s Knife at the Old Vic, an adaptation of a collection of his short stories and prose entitled Texts for Nothing, it’s not too difficult to decipher his relation to the “absurd”. With nonsensical speeches delivered entirely from a deceased body, performed fervently and exclusively by Lisa Dwan, time suspends itself in strange ways as viewers are guided into the depths of the human subconscious and the undergrowth of the earth as they engage with the present dead.
This is naturally Lisa Dwan’s show; as the sole performer, she takes on a daunting task with accomplished aplomb. Her vocal range is wide and impressive, used to channel a number of separate identities residing in her same body. Her schizophrenic and tempestuous alternation between acrimonious rage, colossal doubt and insurmountable fear is a source of both comic relief and powerful drama. Her physical performance is imbued with suitable fits of paroxysm and catatonia, but it is her delivery of Beckett’s gnomic monologue that is the real highlight. Her Irish accent serves to compliment the playwright’s own Irish heritage, as if the spirit of the man himself were present and accountable, and as arcane and alienating as the thick-and-fast language can be, Dwan seduces her audience into sharing in her passion through sheer force alone.
Essentially, this is a poetry reading with high production values: one may question whether such a thing should exist in this format, and the audience may even find themselves completely lost in an abyss of confusion and arcane syntax, but the expression is wholesome and the delivery impassioned, the words intense and gravitational in their allure. Yes, No’s Knife is utterly bizarre and obtuse. It makes zero sense, there is no story. But as Beckett says, there is “no need of a story, a story is not compulsory, just a life…”
The production is top-notch and perfectly executed by Christopher Oram, Hugh Vanstone and Mic Pool. With low-key lighting set ups, perturbing sound effects and minimal, earthly set decorations, the atmosphere created is an emotional miasma of elegiac nihilism in which spectators are encouraged to blur the distinction between life and death. For those unfamiliar with Beckett, it’s advisable to do some preliminary contextual reading beforehand to avoid the sensation of being left adrift. But this avant-garde experience delivers for the playwright’s followers and open-minded newcomers alike. No’s Knife is a mind-altering experience, one that opens doors onto abstract thoughts and dilemmas.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
No’s Knife is at the Old Vic Theatre from 29th September until 15th October 2016. Book your tickets here.