Directed and designed by Sarah Jane Scaife Fizzles is the next installment in her crusade to “reinsert” Beckett’s writing “within the architecture and social spaces of Dublin.” This clinical-sounding intention was brilliantly realized last September with Rough For Theatre 1 and Act Without Words II, performed in a derelict car-park off the Dublin Quays and Scaife brings the same surgical intentness to this trio of prose fragments penned by Beckett in the mid-Seventies.
The promenade aspect of the production is more to the fore as we progress through 14 Henrietta Street on the North Side which once played host to some very distinguished residents in the 18th Century, including the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Today, with its uneven floorboards, flaking paint, strips and scraps of wallpaper, scribbled and nail-marked plaster, it bears stronger witness to its century as a crowded tenement housing seventeen families. The place, despite the beginnings of restoration by the city council, is pungent with echoes and a perfectly chosen setting for the materialization of Beckett’s spare verbal fragments delineating three figures paradoxically immured in a transient state.
The director might demure at the continued surgical comparison, but this production, like the last, functions as a single flawless operation, physical performance, video design, lighting and sound design all in perfect accord. The result is like a scalpel penetrating to the shifting, elusive heart of Beckett’s brief texts and lifting each, with infinite care, up to the carefully filtered light.
Raymond Keane is the performer whose wirey frame, much of it exposed in a sleeveless vest and tattered pants, registers the impact of the dry, resonant voice filling each of the three rooms to which we’re led to witness the travails of three nameless remnants of abject, isolated, discarded humanity.
We’ve arranged ourselves as comfortably as we can on the uncompromising wooden seating in the dimly lit first room when the obscurity lifts just enough for us to become aware of a figure hesitantly un-balling itself low in the right-hand corner. The unwinding of his dirt-smudged limbs continues until the figure is as erect as he’s going to get and we sit, comparative paragons of comfort, listening to the voice describe in minute detail the Escher-like circular wanderings of this derelict through the dilapidated rooms and dusty corridors of silent vacancy. We also see these pointless but inscrutably necessary wanderings superimposed on the wall against which Keane makes his tremulous way. The film seems less projected onto the mottled scrappy wall than risen to and matted onto its surface with dream-like substantiality. There’s a closed door in the wall along Keane’s path and within its frame we see his figure before us retreating down an uneven corridor of the house toward a light-suffused window. His eyes are doubtless closed as, we’re told, he’s long grown tired of keeping them open, peering fruitlessly into the gloom.
Keane is the voice as well as the figure, describing his monotonous interior journeying in the mordantly pertinent tone of a sardonic parable turning the bare bones of the human condition. One in which, like the live figure and his projected image, we never quite manage to coincide with ourselves, never quite, or only ticklishy, occupy the life within which propels us relentlessly on.
In contrast to the wandering derelict, the second room reveals a man sitting in a clean white shirt and slacks, regarding the dying sun from a lightweight wicker chair which nevertheless, the same fastidiously observant voice points out, looks like it’s weighted heavily, immovably to the floorboards. The man in the chair is still, and yet, as the omniscient voice points out, not completely. And indeed, Keane’s figure is trembling finely all over as though with a kind of rarefied epilepsy or the effort of stifling some inner torment, or perhaps he’s simply cold. We’re left to guess, and while we do the voice goes on, like some laconic spy or withering-voiced maiden aunt, describing precisely how he holds, arranges his arms in the chair, and finally, how he cradles his head in his splayed fingers, and listens…
In the last, smaller room into which we’re led the most alert of the three figures is tensely sprawled along the wainscot. The voice we hear is his own thinking voice, railing against another man who’s oppressing, terrorising him, and who, it turns out, is himself. How to get rid of him? Our man – that stock Beckett non-protagonist, the tramp, apparently – is powerless to dispatch him, but is nevertheless galvanized with determination.
This, and the first part are the most disturbing in the mini-trilogy. These fragmentary, fugitive pieces, these slow spurts of dour verbal fizzle lack the comic mixer of Beckett’s longer or more familiar works, and the fact that we’re not in a theatre but in the once-living shell of a house imbues them with an unsettling depth, a disturbingly physical energy, which is caught in Scaife’s arrangements like troubled ghosts briefly flaring in a psychic investigator’s equipment. While the tramp rails against his interior nemesis, an empty overcoat, suspended in the doorway, strides toward us, its sleeves folded decisively over a walking stick. It sends a shiver slowly down the spine.
The accumulated existential shivers begin skittering through the system too. The essential mystery of consciousness, the dreadfulness of its containment in these frail, lost, solitary, helpless figures, their indefatigableness only opening up endless room for inconsequential suffering.