Searching for the heart of Beckett at the Abbey Theatre, St Albans

MUCH of Beckett s work is impenetrable but it has a theatricality which draws in audiences again and again. So while I would never attempt to try and explain what lies behind the three short Beckett plays currently being performed at the Abbey Theatre in

MUCH of Beckett's work is impenetrable but it has a theatricality which draws in audiences again and again.

So while I would never attempt to try and explain what lies behind the three short Beckett plays currently being performed at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans by the Company of Ten, there is no doubt how effective they are as a spectacle.

Take Play, the first of the three, which finds the protagonists, known only as W1, W2 and M, up to their necks in large urns. They say their lines in staccato as a spotlight switches with astonishing speed from one face to another.

The three, played with huge skill by Julie Grant, Chrystalla Spire and Rory Byrne, were clearly part of a love triangle at one time but why they are encased in urns and recounting their version of events in such a quickfire yet almost musical manner, is a mystery.


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But then Beckett himself never gave any explanation, leaving the audience to put its own interpretation on his work. Perversely, one person's interpretation is rarely that of another which is why his work remains as popular today as when it was first written.

The second play, Footfalls, is pure enigma as a woman, pacing the floor, communicates with her sick mother. Or is the mother already dead? Maybe it is the daughter who is dead and returning as a ghost. Jane Fookes is May, the daughter, treading the boards of the Abbey Theatre Studio in perfectly-timed footprints which gradually fade and drag as the play progresses. Patricia Hughes is the Voice of her mother - never seen but perfectly articulated.

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Like Play, Footfalls is unfathomable but Jane's pacing and the few words exchanged by the two characters are every bit as compelling.

The final play is Krapp's Last Tape which is probably the most comprehensible and best known of the three. Derek Coe plays Krapp who, at 69, is listening to a tape he made on his 39th birthday. A lot of the "action" is basically inaction as he rushes from the stage to find tapes, a player and books, setting them out and setting them up.

Although he is clearly devastatingly lonely and is recalling a lost love affair, he does not look back with rose-coloured glasses and had no great love for the 39-year-old Krapp or even the younger one who emerges on the tape.

But his sheer inactivity, even when peeling and eating a banana, captures the futility of end of life in Beckett's eyes and is just as persuasive as the previous two plays.

All three directors, Jo Emery, Leo Smith and Stephen Cunningham, are to be congratulated on a job well done and a production which rounds off yet another very successful season for the Company of Ten.

MADELEINE BURTON

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