Beckett is notoriously hard to do well, and especially works like Play and That Time which rely on carefully orchestrated repetition. This production competently and effectively brought Beckett’s works to the audience of the Burton Taylor, through an inherently claustrophobic stage formation.
The three characters of Play were onstage already, staring at the audience and seemingly already in the process of repeating the arguments that compose the work in their heads. Trapped in their urns – which, being dustbins, recall elements of Endgame not unpleasantly – what must have been hard work by the three actors paid off, enunciating and never missing a beat of the logorrhoea. Brown, Sayer and Greenfield work well together in order to create the sense of disparateness. There were moments of restlessness which occasionally broke the effect, however on the whole it was a successful performance.
The central character of That Time is a difficult role which was pulled off admirably. Essentially performing someone else’s monologue, the protagonist is stuck with his own laboured breathing. However, the rhythm was kept, and his acting struck the needed balance between choreography and genuine reaction to the persecuting voices. Due to the lack of visual stimulation, That Time can be quite a tiring play for the audience, and I’m not sure that this was fully avoided throughout. Yet, despite certain dips, I think Roderick kept the audience’s attention for the vast majority. He was certainly a striking presence onstage.
The lighting – a crucial element of the works – was on point throughout. The timing between lighting cues and actors was impeccable, which tied the works together seamlessly. The spotlight ‘interrogating’ the characters in Play was quick and comfortably reactionary. That Time was less demanding, but the positioning of the character under the full glare of the spotlight, and right up close to the audience, used the interplay between light and dark that the small stage of the BT allows for, to great effect.
Make-up was uniform, which allowed for continuity between the two separate plays and gave the impression of decay and exhaustion. However, there was perhaps scope for some differentiation in the case of That Time, even if it were simply to prompt the audience to study the character’s face in more detail. Having it the same made the face seem unimportant, when of course it is vital to the actor’s performance. A more different make-up structure may have been the way to address the issue of a lack of visual stimulation.
Combining the two plays was a clever move by Jones, and much can be read into and taken from the juxtaposition. Beckett can be tiring and confusing, especially for the unwitting viewer. However, leaving the theatre, a fellow audience member turned to their companion and asked, “Is it supposed to be that way?” – and personally, I would have to say “yes.”