Photos: Robert Workman
It’s an interesting creative idea to hook three Beckett 'shorts' together to form a single theatrical experience because they don’t otherwise get many outings. Moreover they link together thematically because each of them is about an old man or men - at which Beckett excelled. And in the very capable directorial hands of Trevor Nunn the three plays make a compelling, poignant, sometimes shocking evening. The cast is top notch too.
We start with James Hayes in a role originally written for Patrick Magee as a curtain raiser for Endgame. Krapp, a writer, has diarised his life orally on tape. Here in a 45-minute monologue, as an, angry, rheumy-eyed, red nosed old man, he listens once more to an account of a sexual encounter he recorded thirty years ago. The self loathing is powerful and Hayes’s management of silence (he doesn’t speak for the first five minutes) glorious.
After a short scene-changing interval (unmade bed and a stage-left camera on tripod – designed by Louie Whitemore who has become a regular at Jermyn Street) we get Eh Jo. It’s another monologue - of sorts. Niall Buggy is alone, widowed and haunted by the voice of his powerful, mellifluous, sinister, controlling late wife, voiced by Lisa Dwan. It’s actually quite frightening because Joe’s silent distress and inner turmoil is distressingly strong. For twenty minutes Buggy sits silently listening and reacting to the manipulative voice grinding on on his head and we grasp the story of his marriage. He acts with his face – eyes glistening, mouth quivering, cheeks making tiny movements – but hardly moves his body. It’s some of the finest nuanced acting I’ve seen in ages and it’s all projected by the camera onto a screen behind the bed so we are, in effect, seeing it twice simultaneously and that’s quite disturbing. It’s a piece which really does hit you between the eyes.
And finally comes The Old Tune, a duologue in which two old gents (Buggy, whose character is in charge of a seaside barrel organ, and the ever-reliable David Threlfall, as Mr Cream) meet and catch up on a public bench after a long interval of not seeing each other. They reminisce, complain about the traffic - Max Pappenheim’s sound design provides frequent cars whizzing noisily past - and tell each other about their families. It’s beautifully observed inconsequential discourse as they lapse into occasional silences, each of them often forgetting what the other has just said. Threlfall’s Mr Cream, in particular – splendid long white hair, beard, three-piece brown suit and convincing Irish accent – clearly has early stage dementia. The actor has an effective way of using his long sinuous fingers to convey frustration whenever his character forgets what he wants to say. It’s warmly moving.