Tuesday, May 28

Beckett in Birkenhead – Christ Church, Oxton Village

I adore Samuel Beckett, so I jumped at the chance to see two of his short plays being performed. There’s a perception that his writing – like the man – is complex but in reality, it is a theatrical experience that credits its audience with being intelligent and allows them to interpret accordingly. Tonight’s pieces also highlighted the continuing relevance of his work in capturing the consistency of human emotion and behaviour over time, or as he may well have put it: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Directed by Daniel Taylor and produced by Pauline Fleming, we open with Play as we observe three heads poking out from funeral urns – Man (Phil Perez), W1 (Fleming), and W2 (Paula Simms) – in some kind of purgatory as they recall the events of an affair that connects them although it is unclear whether they are aware of each other’s presence as they appear to seamlessly interact through their hurried recollections whilst occasionally talking over each other, before the piece purposefully repeats.

Beckett asks for an accelerated delivery which is the challenge for any director – although I’ve always thought of purgatory as some kind of hell that we would all be rushing to get through – and I found the purpose and pacing tonight spot on. We heard enough to build a picture of events whilst, like them, not really being able to form a clear view of the whole which resonated perfectly with this kind of situation – an affair – when all of the involved parties will have a different view, and no one ever really listens.

The added demand of this piece lies off-stage with the accompanying lighting changes needing to continually switch between each rapidly talking head. These were perfectly coordinated by stage manager Cornelia Cannell who didn’t miss a beat: she must have had a trigger-happy finger by the end of it!

I thought the lip-synched repeat to a pre-recorded tape worked well in capturing how memories are never recalled exactly the same and served as a clever homage to the great man himself.

After a quick change, we returned with Catastrophe which sees Man (Perez) being moved around by an Assistant (Simms) who in turn is controlled by a Director (Fleming) as part of a rehearsal for a major event. There was good use of contrast between light and dark through clothing and staging that benefitted further from the backdrop of cast shadows. If you ever want to understand how bad things happen and good people go along with it then this play demonstrates how, and the cold, harsh and often chilling delivery reflected that. The staging was simple, but it didn’t need to be anything else: we see these events unfolding so much in all aspects of our life that they have become a normal part of the backdrop, which is why sadly we don’t slow down enough to think about them, and history repeats itself all over again.

All the cast performed strongly and since Taylor was unable to be here tonight due to touring commitments, assistant director Melissa Farrell stepped up to the plate and spun it perfectly. A special mention for Crystal Light and Sound for their all-round technical support.

The event would not have been possible without the support of Christ Church, which proved a great venue, and Arts Council England.

Beckett in Birkenhead performs for two further nights on 29th and 30th October at 8pm, tickets available via https://tinyurl.com/3z3aaak9

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 28th October 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★