BWW Review: NOT I, CATASTROPHE AND ROCKABY, Brockley Jack Theatre
All these years, I've never seen a Beckett. Like the shadows cast by sub-atomic particles colliding, I've seen his impact everywhere, but never the real thing in tooth and claw. But I have now.
The mouth first of course, Not I's machine-gunned text looping and twisting as the iconic mouth fills the tiny aperture on which our eyes are (must be) fixed. Samantha Kamras, scarlet of lips, Colgate white of teeth, assails us with the torrent of words, pausing (as Beckett demands) and then careering forwards, tempo, pitch, volume never constant. Extraordinary stuff!
Initially one is tempted to try to follow the story, as if Bernard Cribbins and the Jackanory crew have tripped out on acid and the piece really does have a conventional beginning, middle and end if we just try that bit harder.
Soon, one finds that something else is required - I opted for the kind of attention that I give dance. I let the play wash over me, the rhythms carry me, my concentration to ebb and flow. You may miss some detail in the accounts fired at us by the mouth, but there's more than enough to compensate in exploring the stress-testing to which language and performance is subjected.
Catastrophe is more conventional. A man stands on a plinth, head bowed and covered, feet slightly splayed, still. There are echoes of classical sculpture or religious devotion or (for me at least) the photographs from abuse visited on the prisoners at Abu Ghraib. An assistant - efficient, compassionate, conscientious - notes down orders from the director, who views the man as little more than a prop to be lit correctly. Again, you can take what you will but, in the week in which Harvey Weinstein was led away to prison, I know what I was thinking.
In Rockaby, a woman, young but prematurely aged, sits in a chair that rocks as a voice incants a prose poem of her life. There's a Miss Havisham or Norman Bates vibe underway, as the text returns to its start point and comes again, maybe the same, maybe different. Is she dying? Is she sleeping? Why is she so distraught?
Perhaps the only compromise Angel Theatre Company make is to present these three short plays in a frenetic, captivating hour of stranged words and striking images. There's a bit of "What have I just seen?" in the shock of the avant garde, but it rolls round in your head and pictures come in and out of focus in one's memory, ideas step forward and recede, characters (and these are characters for all their strange untetheredness) emerge.
So, my first Beckett - but it won't be my last.