First Love – O’Reilly Theatre – Dublin Theatre Festival Review
O’Reilly Theatre, Belvedere | Oct 12-16
Written by Samuel Beckett
A stage with a bench, of domestic proportions off centre to the left, stands at a slight angle to the back wall. It has a scrim in front of it on which is delineated a window of mean proportions and an undistinguished front door. By the use of variations in light these two features, through the play, are visible and invisible. The play begins with the stage being plunged into darkness and when the lights come on again the narrator (Barry McGovern), hat on head, bedecked in a long, light black coat, a brown tweed waistcoat, brown trousers and shoes has his back to the audience. He begins “I associate, rightly or wrongly, my marriage with the death of my father, in time.” He continues with a description of his father’s grave and his meeting with Lulu on a park bench. He never, in fact, mentions marrying Lulu but he finishes his monologue “But there it is, either you love or you don’t.” In the intervening hour he reveals a great deal about himself in simple prose which provokes many emotions.
It was not written as a play but as a short story in 1946 and not published until 1973. It has as its underlying premise that Lulu is a foreign species because she is female. Therefore in 2016, seventy years after its creation, it could in unskilled hands sound very out of tune with contemporary gender values. However McGovern is a skilled Beckett interpreter and he manages to place the emphasis on the curmudgeonliness of the narrator rather than any perceived inadequacies of Lulu because she is a woman. Nevertheless, there are lines in the text which are belittling of Lulu as a woman. But it is not all one sided, Beckett gives Lulu a name which is more than he does for the narrator who remains nameless but is undoubtedly male.
Barry McGovern’s long association with Beckett’s work, gives him a unique advantage in interpreting a piece which was not intended initially to be performed on stage. The story he tells in this instance is a chronological one. It requires skill to convert the prose of a short story into a piece of theatre. However with his acting and timing, McGovern brings a great variety of images to mind as he breathes theatrical life into the text. He finds, at times, in what is a fairly squalid domestic setting the comic and lets it bubble up. Beckett wrote about a man of some loneliness in this story which McGovern on stage tells with a knowing confidence.
Cast and Creative Team:
Directed by Michael Colgan
Cast: Barry McGovern
Set Design: Eileen Diss
Lighting Design: James McConnell