Gare St Lazare have certainly brought the wow factor to Beckett in this second instalment of their much-anticipated three-part adaptation of the writer’s novel, How It Is.
Their innovative and imaginative approach makes itself felt even before the world premiere production begins - the main stage has been dispensed with, and instead the performance space is level with the balcony, perched on a trellis of scaffolding which rises from the stalls.
While the first part was a two-hander between Conor Lovett and Stephen Dillane, this time around they are joined by acclaimed tenor Mark Padmore and the Irish Gamelan Orchestra.
The orchestra’s Javanese instruments — bronze gongs, drums, flute and two-stringed fiddle — are arranged on patterned rugs across the stage, objects of beauty in themselves. The intimacy of this production, expertly directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett, is established immediately. The spine tingles as Padmore enters and stands at the balcony rail singing Schubert. The gamelan joins in, its prayerful rhythm an eerie yet soothing presence setting the otherworldly scene.
Like the novel, this is a piece that defies interpretation. Who are these nameless creatures/characters, still struggling in the mud? Are we in hell, purgatory, limbo? After a while, however, the urge to question fades and the stream of consciousness takes a meditative hold.
Dillane and Lovett are once again compelling in their symbiosis. Dillane is a cocky, insolent yet charming presence, as he relishes the rat-a-tat-tat listing of anatomical parts and bodily functions. He is also the perfect conduit for the humour in Beckett’s work — eliciting laughs from the audience with a look, a sigh, a smirk.
Lovett is more hesitant, earnest, searching, his immaculate diction and Cork lilt perfectly showcasing the melody of Beckett’s language.
There is less intensity to this production in comparison to Part 1, but it does not suffer for that; rather it makes for a greater sense of delineation and progression from the first part. The gamelan brings a sublimity to proceedings — the performers’ synchronised, almost yogic movements as they caress the instruments is mesmerising to watch, while the woodwind pierces through the air like a primal scream.
As Dillane gets the final word, there is no sense of confusion, rather a feeling that somehow we are nearer to the essence of what it is to be human. Gare St Lazare and their collaborators deserve to be congratulated, and cherished, for their uncompromising artistic vision and continued championing of Beckett’s work — as does the Everyman for facilitating this ambitious staging.
Bring on Part 3.