Who is this tarred man, floating strangely on air, at the centre of Gare St Lazare Ireland’s music-theatre production? Suspended in a mystical prism, and immersed in hellish red light, he’s like some Stygian figure plunged from the depths.
It’s Samuel Beckett himself, according to a programme note for visual artist Brian O’Doherty’s striking installation, transforming the playwright into something resembling his own ashen and stark creations.
This sharply inquisitive work – conceived by director Judy Hegarty Lovett, actor Conor Lovett, and composers Paul Clarke and Caoimhín Ó’Raghallaigh – is curiously informed by Beckett’s use of music. A passage from the novel Watt, for instance, gives the staging its live piano and cello, dexterously played by James Longford and Christopher Allan.
In Judy Hegarty Lovett’s production, making its Irish premiere after debuting in 2013, sections of Beckett’s prose are interceded by music. The homeless man in First Love, who, in hope, requests a song from a woman and becomes disappointed with the results, is wryly played by Conor Lovett. But something more troubled comes in Clarke’s compositions, overlaying piano staccato with long and weary strokes of violin and cello. The juxtaposition of acting and music certainly makes for a new expression of the playwright’s tragicomedy.
Some may enjoy seeing Beckett’s desolation turn into music, like when singer Melanie Pappenheim delivers a poem from Watt as a remarkable piece of song. But in a moment where the entire stage freezes except for Longford, working hard at the piano, there’s a sense that a meaningless void can’t be easily tamed. That’s a far more exciting point for departure.
In fact, the shifting time signatures of Clark’s music, along with John Scott’s diagrammatic choreography, seem to be trying to usher the piece towards an ambitious piece of postdramatic theatre, recalling the innovations of Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach. Instead, the production remains trapped, unable to move around O’Doherty’s large installation, nor distance itself from the playwright inside it.
With Beckett literally at its centre, this feels more like a meditation on the writer as an infinite source of inspiration, rather than an innovative re-presentation of his work. The lyrical refrain “We shall be here one night” may archly nod to an evening of tragicomedy at the theatre, not unlike Vladimir’s cry, “Not a soul in sight!”, in Waiting for Godot. But this musical exploration of Beckett is waiting for a breakthrough.
Here All Night is on until 14 April 2018 at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Click here for more details.