How It Is – Everyman Theatre – Review by Frank L.
How it is by Samuel Beckett (Part 1) produced by Gare st.Lazare Ireland.
Everyman Theatre, Cork Jan 30 – Feb 3 2018
“How it is” is the last novel written by Samuel Beckett. It was written in French and first published in 1961. Beckett subsequently translated it and published it in English in 1964. Edouard Magessa O’Reilly in the 2009 preface to the novel published by Faber and Faber states ‘Stylistically “How it is” mostly comprises short word-groups which rarely extend to sentences. The narrator’s monologue is made up of false starts, of self corrections, interruptions and repetition. There is a relative scarcity of grammatical linkages (prepositions, conjunctions, relative pronouns); rather meaning is created through juxtaposition.’
Gare St.Lazare Ireland and Conor Lovett have made the performance of works by Beckett part of their raison d’etre. In “How it is” there are three parts ‘…before Pim with Pim after Pim…”. Part 1 is what they now have created into a piece of theatre. Three actors are employed: Conor Lovett, Stephen Dillane and Mel Mercier. The narrator in the novel is ‘in the mud’ and that is where the action takes place. That represents a formidable challenge to a stage adaptation. Gare st. Lazare Ireland chose to create the ‘in the mud’ in the Everyman, Cork where Victorian red plush, elaborate plaster work watched over by sentry like, elaborate boxes all dominated by a proscenium arch. To do so they placed the audience (about ninety souls) on the stage who looked out on a sea of Victorian architecture and furnishings… a fine juxtaposition of ‘in the mud’. The three actors at various times were either in different locations in the auditorium or on the stage in front of the audience. ‘In the mud’ had a fluid interpretation.
Conor Lovett faithfully, with considerable verve, recites Beckett’s text moving about the stage and the auditorium and in and out of the light. It is almost a solo run apart from the beginning but Stephen Dillane for about fifteen minutes, in more elocuted tones, recites alone towards the last third of the piece. Mel Mercier has some contributions and is responsible for the musical and sound backdrop which at the beginning of the performance makes it clear that the viewer has entered an unfamiliar location.
The piece lasts for about an hour and three-quarters without a break. It is undoubtedly a challenging piece. However, to hear the words spoken makes Beckett’s text more accessible than merely reading them, even aloud, from the printed page. There is a rhythm and sensuousness which is revealed. No doubt Parts II and III will, with time, emerge. Gare St.Lazare continue their exploration Beckett’s work with this inventive and thoughtful production.