Monday, March 16, 2015

Samuel Beckett at the Hong Kong Arts Festival

As soon as the Festival tickets went on sale I had one goal above all others: to obtain tickets for the Beckett trilogy 'Not I', 'Footfalls' and 'Rockaby' and on 27th February I had the pleasure of experiencing these wonderful late, short plays.

The only one of the three I had 'seen' before was 'Not I' and that was only a grainy Youtube video of Billie Whitelaw performing this strange, obsessive monologue delivered at the speed of thought. Her performance was wonderful but seeing it performed live on stage was quite another experience.

Not only is it demanding in terms of it's sheer intensity, it is also a physical feat of endurance and it is difficult to imagine how someone can master this piece and deliver it non-stop with hardly a pause for breathe.

Standing on a platform 8 feet above the stage and with a single point of light directed at a mouth that seems to float in an empty black volume of space there are no distractions, no embellishments, nothing but this breathless, desperate cry into the void. During the performance the lights are extinguished and even the exit signs are turned off.
The narrowness of the spotlight and the physically demanding nature of the performance meant that the amazing actress Lisa Dwan had her head strapped into a board to prevent the slightest movement and her arms hooked behind bars for extra support. Despite these restraints, I felt for sure that her head was moving from side to side as she performed even though I knew without doubt that it must have been impossible for her to move in this way.

She must have been exhausted afterwards (I certainly was) and yet she shortly reappeared to perform first 'Footfalls' and then 'Rockaby', which are much quieter and softer but which also cry out into the void, into the dark until fate overcomes us. Again Lisa Dwan was faultless.

Leaving the theatre I felt that I had witnessed something I will recall for years to come, a profound work of art written by a genius and performed by an incredible actress.

An introduction to the trilogy at the festival:

Lisa Dwan introducing 'Not I':

Billie Whitelaw's 1973 version of 'Not I':

Photos Courtesy of Hong Kong Arts Festival 2015

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