Writer: Jon Fosse
English Language Version: Simon Stephens
Director: Charlotte Marigot
Reviewer: Kris Hallett
Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse’s I Am The Wind baffled some critics when first presented at the Young Vic in 2011. Viewing it some six years later it’s difficult to understand the reasons for this. It is basically Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot set on a boat. Whereas that play depicted two lifelong companions passing time, this finds two virtual strangers chipping away at it in their own version of purgatory. They moor a boat, they eat soup and talk. The text identifies them as ‘The One’ and ‘The Other’. They are symbols; literary devices, not flesh and blood. Fosse is not interested in catching life through close psychological inspection; instead, he uses bodies as vassals for his own philosophy.
Like Beckett, the lines are double loaded, both profound and banal. It can occasionally feel a case of the Emperors New Clothes, an audience nodding in respect at the philosophical tone so as not to come across like philistines. It’s the kind of work that can leave its audience turned off. Yet in Simon Stephen’s respectful and precise translation, the play unlocks some of its mystery. The relationship between the two men deepens from strangers to companionship. We are unsure if it’s friendship or the blossoming of love we are witnessing, they flirt, their eyes twinkle as they push at each others boundaries – yet it doesn’t, one expects, really bother Fosse one way or another. Like the two tramps whiling away time, it’s really a play more interested in the bonds between men.
Charlotte Marigot’s production chips away carefully at the text’s surface to reveal its deeper meanings underneath. Her direction is as precise and as thoughtful as the text. She has caught the rhythm of the piece just right, not driving it along so it hits the finishing line too early, nor allowing it to get caught in sacrament. She shades its moods, alerts to every inflexion and change. Power swaps hands incrementally. It passes often between the two men like an invisible game of hide-and-seek.
‘The One’ is at the tiller of the boat, prone to introspection, caught between the dual need for solitude yet terrified at the prospect of that. His fear of not being able to express in words his situation is a fear that strikes at all writers, of never being precise or descriptive enough in the language to catch a feeling. ‘The Other’ needles away at his existential despair, trying to grasp what components make up his companion while learning his own lessons about being at one with the sea. Freddie Bowerman- who one imagines could soon be costumed up in breeches and jodhpurs in lavish costume dramas – and Edward Stone as the two men are both open to the texts many meanings and deliver sensitive, thoughtful work.
Charlotte Cooke’s stark design impressively conjures the epic with little, thanks to assistance from Daniel Jones’ sparse lighting and James Melsome’s superb sound score. If Fosse spoils his ending somewhat with a trite melodramatic turn, he has created a text that allows all involved the opportunity to funnel into its heart. It may not set the pulses racing but it will burrow within the mind long after the evening has finished.
Runs until 20 May 2017. | Image: