BWW Review: CASCANDO, Samuel Beckett Theatre, Apr 2016

Is it hard to imagine that theatre as we know it today may have had its origin in religious rituals in ancient Greece, honouring the winemaking god Dionysus? After all, attending a play is not so different from going to church. Drama often depicts gospel themes of sin, love and forgiveness. If theatre is a temple, Samuel Beckett is its strangest disciple.

The correspondence between divinity and drama comes to mind in Cascando, the third of the playwright's radio plays to be produced by Pan Pan. This contemporary theatre company now specialises in producing these works within high-tech listening chambers. For an absorbing production of All That Fall in 2011, we arrived at a macabre playroom of skull-pattered pillows and rocking chairs. The sound-room for Embers in 2013 placed an immense skull sculpture as the centre-piece.

First broadcast in 1963, Cascando begins with the curious character Opener (Daniel Reardon) setting the scene: the month of May, a time of "reawakening".

The Opener commands two other presences: the winding Voice (Andrew Bennett) caught between arrest (" - stories ... if you could finish it ...") and progress ("- nearly ... just a few more ... a few more"), and Music (designed by Jimmy Eadie), whole and forceful.

Director Gavin Quinn, dramaturg Nicholas Johnson and designer Aedín Cosgrove recognise this as a journey. The Samuel Beckett Theatre has been transformed into a maze, and we are sent through, wearing cloaks and listening to the play on headphones.

The unhurried pace of Bennett's deep and riveting voice may provide a rhythm for our steps, as we listen to Voice's struggle to tell a story. The absent figure named Woburn is identified by his "same old coat" and vague memories of a cave or shelter. As the same-dressed audience pass each other in the dark surroundings, it appears that images of the text have been slyly extracted. Has the audience been unknowingly cast as the play's mystifying wanderer?

Along this journey, the tremendous pulse of Eadie's music threatens to overwhelm. It rises in a wave of crashing strings, eventually settling to ring, pining, with Voice's efforts.

If you suspected that Woburn's journey resembled a pilgrimage, Reardon's sullen Opener somewhat confirms it, suggesting God and a parable: "two outings and a return, to the village, to the inn".

What are we to make of this beautiful but mysterious promenade, sparingly lit by Cosgrove to send light rippling along reflective surfaces. That's the blessing of Beckett: like prayer, is what you believe that's the thing.

Cascando ran at the Samuel Beckett Theatre April 19th-23rd. Photo: Ros Kavanagh.

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From This Author Chris McCormack

Chris McCormack is a theatre critic based in Dublin. He blogs on and writes for A Younger Theatre, Irish Theatre Magazine and the Arts (read more...)