MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL: Conor Lovett is considered by many critics to be the greatest Beckett interpreter alive today and judging by the standing ovation he received on Thursday evening from an Arts Festival audience that had been sitting in the same position for nigh on three hours, this reputation has been solidified.
Conor Lovett is considered by many critics to be the greatest Beckett interpreter alive today and judging by the standing ovation he received on Thursday evening from an Arts Festival audience that had been sitting in the same position for nigh on three hours, this reputation has been solidified. He was, of course, performing The Beckett Trilogy: A marathon one man show that spans Beckett’s novels Molloy, Molone Dies and The Unnamable.
There is a memory technique that was used in ancient Roman times to remember long texts. The trick was to imagine oneself in a familiar room, and walk around that room picking up relevant pieces of information. This comes to mind throughout Lovett’s performance because his mnemonic skills are honestly, stupendous. This is not to mention his performance, finely tuned to bring out all the beauty of the text and none of the ego of the stage. Lovett brings such dynamism to the work without overdoing it. Performing such a large piece with no other actors to bounce off, without purely reciting it line by line; well that’s no small feat my friends.
I’m not going to lie to you. This show is a hard slog. But, like an army going into battle, the audience forged on, the weaker members lost along the way. Lovett seemed well aware of the effort required on the audience’s part and appeared to toy with us towards the end. He moved in and out of the light, as if each line was the final one. Pausing, allowing us to take in what he had said and then shifting cheekily along with the show.
Molloy was definitely the highlight for me, and it seemed obvious that he has been performing this since he was 28. It is to perfection. Lovett moves firmly to one side and lets Beckett speak and I am taken to the bitingly dark and hilarious world of Molloy. The happenstance circumstances of the unlikely anti-hero are perfect fodder for demonstrating that skill that the Irish have perfected: Finding humor in the bleak.
I wouldn’t say that Lovett becomes Molloy as a character, even though the story is told in first person, so much as he allows us to envisage him as we wish by wearing neutral clothing and focusing instead on the lyricism of the language, the pausing and turn of phrase. This is a story after all, not a play, and the fun of the novel as a medium is that we are able to use the author’s words as building blocks to create our own individual places and characters. Lovett, as directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett, certainly allows for us to do that here. These were two masters, Beckett and Lovett, working cohesively to deliver a spellbinding overall result. But, as an audience member, you needed to do some of the work yourself and put your imagination into gear.
After intermission we return for Molone Dies, where the characterisation doesn’t change much from Molloy, but the structural changes in the writing of Beckett were clearly evident as Lovett goes on to perform a less disjointed story, with bizarre characters. The work concludes with The Unnamable where we can see a deliberate shift in lighting and movement to indicate Beckett’s shift into stream-of-consciousness writing.
If I were to suggest anything, it would be to make the work a little shorter so that it is more accessible, but that’s not what it is about. This is for hardcore Samuel Beckett connoisseurs, and they won’t be disappointed.
Gare St Lazare Players Ireland
The Beckett Trilogy
Molloy, Malone Dies & The Unnamable
by Samuel Beckett
Venue: The Arts Centre, Playhouse, Melbourne
Dates: 14 - 17 October, 2010
Times: Thurs, Fri & Sat 8pm; Sun 1pm
Duration: 3 hrs 30 mins
Tickets: $25 - $55