The Theatreguide.London Review
Arcola Theatre November-December 2014
A brilliant text brilliantly interpreted and excitingly performed – there is very little about Conor Lovett's solo show that does not inspire superlatives.
With the aid of director Judy Hegarty Lovett, the actor has transformed Samuel Beckett's early story into a darkly comic monologue so spellbinding that its hour and twenty minutes seem to go by in less than half that length.
As is his wont, Beckett writes of a minimal human being in minimal circumstances, in this case a man so unaccustomed to human contact that just speaking to us is a novelty that causes him to repeatedly pause in wonder.
He tells us of his one relationship with a woman – if by 'relationship' you understand that they shared a park bench a few times and he lived in her home for a while in a separate room she was not welcome to enter.
But of course, out of that kind of minimalism are Beckett lives made up. It will come as little surprise to Beckett veterans that the speaker finds graveyards amenable places to spend his time, that he notes ruefully that 'dust to dust' might more accurately specify muck, and that it is not just alliteration that makes him think of food and fumigating together.
Lest this sound bleak, I rush to repeat that the monologue is filled with comedy, in both the man's bizarre experiences, his skewed vision and the personality Conor Lovett finds for him.
Lovett embodies the man so fully, from voice to body language to pacing, that it is worth reminding ourselves that he is working from a narrative text without stage directions, finding his entire characterisation and performance in the words he speaks.
So when he realises, for example, that such a man would be as unaccustomed to sustained thought as to extended conversation, and has the guy wander off from time to time into a blankness from which he has to stir himself, it rings absolutely true as well as being dramatically alive.
(It is also very daring – a couple of times Lovett holds a silence so long that you begin to fear the actor has forgotten a line, only to wake the character up again at the last possible moment and thereby demonstrate his complete control over what he's doing.)
An all-but-bare stage, a single actor and a text – and this is one of the most engrossing, captivating and thoroughly entertaining evenings I've had in a theatre all year.
This production of First Love was done at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010. Here's what we said about it then:
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Review - First Love - Arcola Theatre 2014