Wednesday, March 11, 2015

BECKETT TRIPTYCH at the 2015 Adelaide Festival

Beckett Triptych

Directed by Geordie Brookman (Footfalls), Corey McMahon (Eh Joe), Nescha Jelk (Krapp's Last Tape). Set and Costume Design Ailsa Paterson. State Theatre Company Scenic Workshop and Rehearsal Room. Adelaide Festival Centre. Presented by the State Theatre Company of South Australia in association with the 2015 Adelaide Festival. February 20 - March 15.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Peter Carroll as Krapp in Krapp's Last Tape, Pamela Rabe as May in Footfalls  and Paul Blackwell in Eh Joe  in the State Theatre Company production of Beckett Triptych. Adelaide Festival 2015 

While watching the State Theatre Company’s outstanding production of the Beckett Triptych, I was reminded that Beckett is indeed the actor’s playwright. The names of Billie Whitelaw, Jack McGowran and Patrick Magee are inextricably linked with his works. Directors Geordie Brookman (Footfalls), Corey Mcmahon (Eh Joe) and Nescha Jelk (Krapp’s Last Tape) must count themselves blessed to have three of Australia’s finest to interpret Beckett’s enigmatic pieces. In Footfalls, Pamela Rabe plays May, tormented by her mother’s voice, spoken with frightening intimidation by Sandy Gore. Paul Blackwell’s transfixed gaze attempts to blot out the unrelenting jibe of the woman’s voice uttered with sinister accusation by Pamela Rabe in Eh Joe. In Krapp’s Last Tape, Peter Carroll is both the seventy year old Krapp, and the recorded voice of himself at thirty nine, played on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, as he does on every birthday. Directors and actors have created a feast of Beckett gems that will whet the appetite for more and reveal not the absurdity of the text, but rather the absurdity within the text and the characters, possessed by the past, shackled by the present and condemned to a future.

State Theatre Company’s revealing insight into the lives and minds of Beckett’s bewildered and bewildering characters challenges an audience to listen, to consider and to witness the poet’s musings. When asked whether Godot was God, Beckett replied curtly,  “ If I had meant him to be God I would have said so.” No wonder that he and Pinter held each other in such esteem. State Theatre Company’s production of these three gems allows you, like Joe, to draw back the curtains, but instead of the blank wall that shuts him off from an outside world, you may see into the very heart and mind of May, Joe and Krapp. But you must listen carefully and look closely, and you will find that it is all quite simple really.

To begin, audiences are divided in two. Half move into one space within the Adelaide Festival Centre to view Footfalls, while the other half move into a different space to watch Eh Joe. Both pieces are only twenty minutes in length. After an interval the entire audience then moves into the larger space to watch the forty minute one act Krapp’s Last Tape. I move with the half that will watch Footfalls first.
Pamela Rabe as May in Footflls
One… Two….Three….. Four….. Five…. Six…. Seven…… Eight….. Nine…… Wheel. May repeats over and over the slow walk along a narrow shaft of light. The foot falls softly, as though stirring the dust of time and clouding the mind. The voice of a bed ridden mother rasps through the air, taunting, deriding and belittling in its harshness. In a long dark dress, which conjures recollection of Miss Havisham, May, trapped and powerless bears the pain of her intimidation. Is it the solitary walk of the victim of her life, or the tortured imaginings of a troubled mind? Rabe walks ghostlike in her subservience to Sandy Gore’s intoning mother. Mesmerizing in her inner pain, Rabe’s performance is hypnotic, doomed to everlasting entrapment.
Paul Blackwell as Joe in Eh Joe
Behind a scrim, a room reaches back towards an upstage door. Joe (Paul Blackwell), moves from curtain to door to the single bed to ensure that no one else inhabits the room. Completely walled up, the room is his retreat, safe from the outside world enclosing him within the prison of his tormented mind. As he sits at the end of the bed, his projected face appears upon the scrim, gradually zooming in as if to peirce his eyes to discover the truth behind the vacant stare. The woman’s voice ( Pamela Rabe) is heard, insinuating, accusatory and threatening. Blackwell remains immobile. Occasionally the eyes will blink, but the vacant stare persists as the voice persists its journey through the recollections of a failed and unfulfilled past. Nothing happens. Nobody comes. Nobody goes and yet everything happens within Joe’s memory of experience. Of the three works, Eh Joe is perhaps the least accessible in its static state. But listen carefully and a life will emerge, without hope, without escape and without a voice of its own. Blackwell’s immobility is the entry to his thoughts, and in the eyes Joe’s powerlessness is palpable. That is the art of a great actor.
Peter Carroll as Krapp in Krapp's Last Tape
Krapp’s Last Tape again pursues Beckett’s preoccupation with the past. It is in a sense the most autobiographical account of memory, unfulfilled dreams, an ironic obsession with the need to control his destiny, existential ponderings. Aisla Paterson’s cluttered set of furniture and doors and narrow passageways suggests the confused dilemma of Krapp’s existence. Carroll sits at a table, spooling the tape of his thirty-ninth birthday. This is Beckett’s most accessible piece, capturing his ironic wit and fascination for the silent movie stars, with a joyful eye for the sight gag, as Carroll preoccupies himself with the banana routine, or suddenly sweeps the objects from the table in spontaneous petulance. Carroll’s performance is precise, controlled, eccentric and magnetic. Beckett could not have wished for a better actor to capture the lean physical discipline of Krapp’s obsession or the leapfrogging preoccupation of his cluttered psyche.  

 Beckett Triptych is a triumphant union of directors, whose understanding of Beckett, evokes clarity and comprehension, and three performers who have interpreted the characters with an appreciation of text, enormous empathy and the art to instill the universality of the human experience in thought and deed.

The current resurgence of productions of Beckett suggest that we live in a society searching for meaning, confronting questions about ourselves and our place in society and the great existential conundrum of the meaning of existence. State Theatre Company should be applauded for mounting a production  of three lesser known works by a leading influential playwright of the twentieth century which  not only  offers an immensely rewarding theatre experience but through Beckett’s words and characters leads us some of the way towards the answers.

Beckett Triptych is undoubtedly a theatrical tour de force of the 2015 Adelaide Festival.