Theatre review: Here All Night at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Conor Lovett in Here All Night, on tour to Limerick, Cork and Dublin.

By Alan O’Riordan

4/5 stars

It’s Friday, April 13, Samuel Beckett’s birthday, and you can’t move for the “fail better” memes, reducing his work to the status of a self-help slogan. At the Abbey Theatre, however, Gare St Lazare are doing the opposite. They are succeeding, possibly better than they ever have before, with Here All Night, a marriage of Beckett’s words to music, directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett, with compositions by Paul Clark.

The score is for a choir, led by soloist Melanie Pappenheim, and cello (Christopher Allan), Hardanger fiddle (Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, whose solo is a real treat), and piano (James Longford). As for the words, Conor Lovett, as ever, is a perfect instrument. His recitations intersperse the music, as he and the choir move around the stage, the centrepiece of which is Brian O’Doherty’s sculpture: a horizontally suspended figure, framed by taut white rope.

Lovett’s pieces draw on works such as Watt, Malone Dies and First Love. Watt, in particular, is full of repetitions, elaborations and permutations, the complexity and patterning of which attest to Beckett’s mathematical and musical interests. They also constitute a critique of language’s paradoxes and limitations. Explanation is doomed to failure, Beckett suggests, but there’s no alternative.

It’s prose, then, that finds Beckett at his most playful, rhythmical and musical. While not a wholly representative selection, it is true to his essential tragicomic vision, and perfect for the purposes of Here All Night.

Clark’s settings are often reminiscent of mid-20th century chamber music. Lyrics like the “krik, krek, krak” of the frog song from Watt add an occasional touch of surrealism. It’s evocative of both Beckett and his time, an elegant echo of 20th-century modernism, but not at all nostalgic.

Hegarty Lovett and her team have created something of stark beauty here. The elements of song, sound, and sculpture have brought new breadth and depth to the Gare St Lazare vision of Beckett, always so deeply empathetic. Not to be missed.

Lime Tree, Limerick, tonight; Everyman, Cork, Monday; National Opera House Wexford, Wednesday; Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire, Friday and Saturday.

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