Theatre review: How It Is (Part 1) at the Everyman Palace Theatre, Cork

Ahead of Gare St Lazare Ireland’s world premiere performance of Samuel Beckett’s How It Is in Cork, director Judy Hegarty Lovett addresses the audience, stressing that the Irish writer's original text was a novel, not a play, writes Marjorie Brennan.

Whatever level of accessibility is present in Beckett’s best-known work for stage is not to be expected here. But absence of plot and traditional-style dialogue has its advantages, inviting audiences to project their own meaning on to this challenging work.

There is no doubt that we are in deep Beckett territory as a visual and aural assault begins, with deafening static, blinding lights and shattering glass combining to discombobulating effect.

Conor Lovett And Stephen Dillane in How It Is

The audience is placed on the stage, while the performers, Cork actor Conor Lovett and Game of Thrones star Stephen Dillane, move around the auditorium. Disembodied voices, real and manipulated, ricochet around the theatre, echoing and reverberating in a demented kind of fugue.

Lovett is movingly affecting in his role as the nameless character/creature mired in mud, metaphorical or physical, we are not sure. He invokes the opaque prose like some kind of twisted prayer; chanting, stuttering and recanting. The fractured words are at some points portentous, at others strangely soothing.

Dillane effortlessly finds the rhythm in Beckett’s work, at times almost singing the text, and seems to be enjoying himself immensely. Where Lovett appears to turn inward in his torment, imbuing his performance with a sense of heartbreaking humanity, Dillane preens with mischief and humour, in an utterly compelling performance.

Mel Mercier’s stunning soundscape brings this production to a whole other level while the lighting and visuals, by Hegarty Lovett and Kris Stone, prises it from the visceral mud to a space that is spectral, almost spiritual.

While Beckett is often seen as impenetrable and difficult, there is so much in this work that is strangely comfortable and familiar. There are many rewards to be found in it if you abandon the compulsion to make sense of it all, and just let it wash over you.

At the end, by whatever strange alchemy is wrought I feel enervated and alive rather than consumed by existential angst. A tale of the unexpected.

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