Theatre review: Not I

Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

****

There are two kinds of theatre groups, those that hold Samuel Beckett’s texts to be sacred scripture, and those that see them as suitable for experimentation. Gaitkrash belong more in the second category than the first: in their new production of Not I, directed by Ger FitzGibbon, they remain true to Beckett’s text, but build a whole new theatrical experience around it.

Not I is one of Beckett’s shorter works. Its sole character is an elderly woman, in this case played by Regina Crowley, whose presence is entirely obscured but for her mouth. Its brevity is one reason why it is so seldom performed: it often runs at less than 10 minutes, more typically the length of a theatre interval than an actual performance.

The audience at this production — numbers are restricted to 15 — are first invited to circulate in the Long Gallery, where silent portraits of well-fed burghers stare from the walls. The audience are then blindfolded and led to a lift — full of birdsong — and transported to an upper level of the building, where they are directed along one corridor after another until they arrive at a room and are seated. The journey is soundtracked by Mick O’Shea’s composition of electronic bleeps and the mumbling of disembodied voices.

When the audience are finally relieved of their blindfolds, it is to find that Crowley’s mouth is discernible in the darkness. Crowley’s delivery of the text is reverential: she begins by mumbling, as if grasping for language, and then bursts into what may well be the strangest soliloquy of Beckett’s oeuvre.

Not I is inspired by the broken old women Beckett encountered so often when walking the roads around Dublin. The character has suffered some trauma that seems to have been as unspeakable as it is unspecified. Unused as she is to self-expression, she even babbles about the very practice of speech in her efforts to make herself understood. When Crowley is required to scream, it is truly awful, the anguished wail of one who seems damned to be eternally alone.

The experience of witnessing Not I in so vivid a live performance is akin to having the breath sucked from one’s body. At the end, it almost seems like a discourtesy to leave. But afterwards, the audience are led back to the Long Gallery and treated to a restorative shot of Beckett’s favourite tipple, Jameson whiskey.

Until May 10. Bookings: gaitcrash.com



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