The Theatreguide.London Review
Young Vic Theatre Autumn 2007; revived Autumn 2008
Samuel Beckett, the master of theatrical minimalism, as interpreted by Peter Brook, the master of transforming texts into theatrical events - the combination is irresistible, even if these are neither first-rank Beckett works nor unequivocally admirable directorial touches.
Of the five pieces that make up this just-over-an-hour programme, only 'Rockaby' is unquestionably a major Beckett work, and it is the one most altered by the director.
This is the one in which an old woman sits almost silently in a rocking chair while a disembodied voice (normally the actress, pre-recorded) describes the withdrawal from life that brought her here and will, perhaps, take her to death.
Brook and actress Kathryn Hunter play her much younger than usual and do away with both the recording and the rocking chair, leaving the woman to sit on a plain chair or wander about the stage, describing her own actions.
While this eliminates almost everything Beckett's play would seem to be about, it does generate a new one, the monologue suggesting the compulsive self-monitoring of an agoraphobe shrinking into herself in a quest for oblivion.
The other pieces generally lack even that much emotional power or sense of a creative sensibility working with Beckett's raw material.
'Rough For Theatre I,' the tentative reaching toward each other and self-protective withdrawal of a blind man and a cripple, has some of the half-mythic quality of Yeats' short poetic plays, but actors Jos Houben and Marcello Magni bring little to it.
'Act Without Words II,' in which Houben and Magni present two men, one glum and the other cheery, as they mime their way through parallel days, plays as little more than a joke, the sort of thing a TV comic of the 1950s might have done as a throwaway sketch.
And 'Neither,' in which Hunter walks back and forth while describing herself walking back and forth, feels like a very rough first sketch of the far greater 'Footfalls,' with none of its resonant power or any hint of the Christian or Zen overtones others find in the text.
The short evening ends with a confection, the sweetly comic 'Come and Go,' in which the three play Pythonesque old ladies on a park bench.
Certainly not the most accessible introduction to either Beckett or Brook for the beginner, this programme must be for veterans and admirers of both, who will welcome and appreciate even a second-rank selection of their work.
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