Breath // Three Samuel Beckett Works

Janet McAllister • NZ Herald

"The hour-long show offers a reasonable taste of Beckett for beginners as well as aficionados; the brilliance of Beckett's reprobates is palpable."

Existential loneliness is writ large in the three short Samuel Beckett solos presented here by actor/producer Edward Newborn and director Paul Gittins. Each piece uses recorded voice as a proxy for the past; Beckett once described his character Krapp as having "nothing to talk to but his dying self and nothing to talk to him but his dead one". Discordant but insouciant jazz plays between pieces, as if suggesting we adopt a pose of ironical, amused detachment to cope with such inevitable suffering.

In the first work, That Time, all we see is the Listener's (Newborn's) head, while three voices from his past speak to him from different directions. It is a calm meditation on memory within a complex, musical structure that repeats lyrical phrases; the audience can float in and out, and still follow along.

The second, 35-second piece, Breath, is the evening's fulcrum, illustrating That Time's description of life: "come and gone ... in no time". An enormous photograph is slowly revealed; it is dazzling after the vast black curtains of That Time, but also bleak.

Life is structured shit and then you die. Finally, a revival of Newborn and Gittins' 2010 production of Krapp's Last Tape begins with a bombastic blast of "Happy Birthday". Showing Krapp drinking on stage (counter to Beckett's stage directions), Gittins ensures everybody is absolutely clear that we're watching an old drunk who has failed his earlier self's ambitions. (Perhaps his real tragedy is his continued faith in youth's unforgiving yardstick.)

Newborn's performance is carefully controlled, with little hint of madness, fire or frailty - his 69-year-old Krapp sounds surprisingly similar to the tapes he recorded as 39-year-old Krapp 30 years ago. But his coherence is easy to follow, his smile is winning and he plays up the comedy nicely: "Mother at rest at last ... Slight improvement in bowel condition," he reads deadpan, from a diary.

The hour-long show offers a reasonable taste of Beckett for beginners as well as aficionados; the brilliance of Beckett's reprobates is palpable.

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