Tag Archives: Robert Workman

Beckett Triple Bill

★★★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

Beckett Triple Bill

Beckett Triple Bill:

Krapp’s Last Tape – Eh Joe – The Old Tune

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 17th January 2020

★★★★★

 

“Nunn’s inspired direction and choices, and the consistently wonderful acting, gives the overall effect of this being one three act play rather than three one act plays”

 

Kicking off the new decade at the Jermyn Street Theatre is a trio of short, one act plays by Samuel Beckett. A master of solitary minimalism, Beckett wrote many to choose from. The three, compiled and directed by Trevor Nunn for the “Beckett Triple Bill” are, on the surface, quite different from each other and originally written for different media (the stage, television and radio). But Nunn has picked out a common thread of memory and of looking back, allowing them to sit together in illogical harmony as an intimate and seamlessly crafted trilogy. In each play the protagonists are reviewing their lives through their refracted memories. ‘We’ve never been who we think we were once, and we only remember what never happened’. I don’t remember where that aphorism comes from, of course, but it defines the fragile fabric of nostalgia that we all share, and that Beckett so expertly writes about.

“Krapp’s Last Tape” opens the evening. The title of the play seems obvious, that what we are witnessing is the recording of Krapp’s final tape, yet it could also just be his most recent. It is Krapp’s sixty-ninth birthday and he is playing a tape he recorded thirty years earlier, listening with a mixture of contempt and regret. At times he cannot remember the meaning of words he used to use and has to look them up in the dictionary. Afterwards he removes the tape, loads a fresh one and starts recording his older voice, a voice that is scathing about the man he used to be and the man he has become. James Hayes, as Krapp, is captivating; holding the audience tightly in his grasp, even through his long moments of silence. We are as attentive as he is. As he listens, we listen too, and Hayes has the ability to draw us right into the character’s mind.

“Eh Joe” takes us into slightly darker territory. Originally written for television, it translates perfectly to the intimacy of the space. Simon Nicholas’ live, close-up back projection of Joe’s face pays homage to Beckett’s original specifications, but here it is very much a backdrop. We barely notice the camera moving in closer. All our attention is on Niall Buggy who utters not a single word as Joe. Buggy relies on expression alone, and some real tears, as he reacts to the voice in his head. While Buggy is seen and not heard, Lisa Dwan, as The Voice, is heard and not seen. Dwan’s voice is barely above a whisper but it creates a storm in the mind of Joe. Each word a knife going in. A pause for breath, then in again.

Buggy returns for the final round in “The Old Tune”, teaming up with David Threlfall to play Gorman and Cream respectively; two old-timers reunited after many years. Beckett’s radio play injects a small dose of much needed humour to the evening. Buggy and Threlfall are faultless in their portrayal of two bewildered men lost in a modern world that is passing them by – quite literally too with Max Pappenheim’s sound design littering the stage with passing motor cars. The elderly couple remember a time before cars. They remember a lot, but forget just as much too; disagreeing with each other’s memories in a kind of prose version of Lerner and Loewe’s ‘I Remember It Well’. Beckett’s dialogue, often absurd in the extreme, always manages to contain universal themes that we recognise and relate to. The exaggerated nostalgia that provides the comedy is timeless and it still pervades today, having influenced many writers on the way, most noticeably Monty Python’s ‘Yorkshiremen Sketch’.

“Beckett Triple Bill” is an evening of contrast and similarity. I initially set out to appraise each short piece separately, but Nunn’s inspired direction and choices, and the consistently wonderful acting, gives the overall effect of this being one three act play rather than three one act plays.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Robert Workman

 


Beckett Triple Bill

Jermyn Street Theatre until 8th February 2020

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Creditors | ★★★★ | April 2019
Miss Julie | ★★★ | April 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (A) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (B) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (C) | ★★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (D) | ★★ | June 2019
For Services Rendered | ★★★★★ | September 2019
The Ice Cream Boys | ★★★★ | October 2019
All’s Well That Ends Well | ★★★★ | November 2019
One Million Tiny Plays About Britain | ★★★ | December 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

One Million Tiny Plays About Britain

★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

One Million Tiny Plays About Britain

One Million Tiny Plays About Britain

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 6th December 2019

★★★

 

“Nicholls and Barclay’s remarkably sensitive acting made these snapshots very powerful, for all their brevity”

 

As we file into the small Jermyn Street Theatre, the ushers tonight seem a little… extra. It all becomes clear as the performance starts and we see these same ushers ‘backstage’, rummaging through audience coat pockets for mints and sharing behind-the-scenes banalities. They’re the first of many characters, and the start of a roll call of modern Britishness via a quickfire series of vignettes.

The format here comes from writer Craig Taylor’s Guardian magazine columns and subsequent book, and originate from fractions of overheard conversations in the maelstrom of the capital. It’s not ever quite clear how much is fiction and how much verbatim; Taylor keeps this opaque. But we can certainly assume that there’s been some narrative help to some of the scenes – of which more below.

It takes exceptional acting to convincingly show us such a huge range of characters of all ages within two hours. Fortunately, Emma Barclay and Alec Nicholls are more than equipped. Their adept handling of the wide span of accents required, for example, is astonishing; note-perfect even when switching rapidly between, in one case, Scouse and Manc. The sense of changing settings is also helped by, as so often at the Jermyn, top quality lighting (Sherry Coenen) and sound design (Harry Linden Johnson).

To the content, then, of our many little plays. Some of these flashbulbs of modern life are amazingly poignant, such as the ageing lady struggling to stay in her own home as tendrils of dementia wrap around her, and the gay guy hospitalised after a suicide attempt whose mum determinedly puts his actions as being down to the darker evenings. Nicholls and Barclay’s remarkably sensitive acting made these snapshots very powerful, for all their brevity.

There are flashes of incredible observations of Britishness too, such as the escalating passive aggression about who pays a cafe bill and the reserved sweetness of a mature widow describing the kiss at the end of her first date after bereavement (‘I’m not sure what it was, really’).

But some of these set pieces are more sophisticated than others, seeming to call up rather lazy stereotypes. There’s a builder looking at page 3 in a white van, and a gap yah millennial exchanging Bob Dylan vinyl because they’re into new stuff. These scenes tell us nothing new, and aren’t even much played for laughs, so fall a little flat when viewed against the more effective vignettes.

Some other elements work less well, too (although tellingly these are parts with less to do with the faultless performances of Nicholls and Barclay). The interludes between scenes, voiced by an unseen speaker, prove some of the weaker writing, with the asides actually adding little and actually proving an irritating distraction at times (‘Wolverhampton… never been’). And at times, moving scenes are undermined by a sudden pivot towards comedy, almost as if there’s an insistence towards this being a lighter night. The well-spoken couple having a torrid break-up in a west London restaurant are so acutely observed and acted as to make any of us who’ve survived dumpings pang in empathy (Barclay is especially sympathetic here, as the woman trying to retain her dignity), but the poignance of this scene is punctured by an unnecessary twist.

The biggest issue, though, is about what the series of vignettes can claim to represent. The title refers to Britain, and, with the location of each scene introduced, the geographic spread of the ‘little plays’ is made clear. We’re taken to Scotland (Edinburgh) once, and Swansea. We range from King’s Lynn to Newcastle, from Whitstable to Liverpool. But make no mistake: London scenes dominate here, and RP accents prevail. Given the diversity of today’s British population, not least in London, characters from outside the UK are inexplicably absent. More uneasily still, where they do crop up, it feels as though these characters are simply foils, shining a light on the ‘native’ character. The monosyllabic Ukrainian delivery man who a lonely spinster tries to nobble for a chat; the nurse with beads in her hair (‘maybe not in her culture’), referenced in passing; the honourable Eastern European builder who derides his British colleague’s casual sexism. In a production that does so well to hold a prism up to many strains of Britishness (an ailing NHS, an ageing and lonely population, disconnects between parents and their children), the absence of an attempt towards a truly rounded understanding of what Britain’s population looks like today disappoints.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Robert Workman

 


One Million Tiny Plays About Britain

Jermyn Street Theatre until 11th January

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Mary’s Babies | ★★★ | March 2019
Creditors | ★★★★ | April 2019
Miss Julie | ★★★ | April 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (A) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (B) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (C) | ★★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (D) | ★★ | June 2019
For Services Rendered | ★★★★★ | September 2019
The Ice Cream Boys | ★★★★ | October 2019
All’s Well That Ends Well | ★★★★ | November 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews