Writers: Dead Centre and Mark O’Halloran
Directors: Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd
For the UK premiere of Beckett’s Room, Dead Centre promised a play without performers and the story of an apartment in the ravages of war and a changing world. And it delivers this and so much more. The sometimes self-aware script with references to Waiting for Godot and an unnamed theatre performance with no lighting where the cast are merely shadows on the stage, this performance is technically brilliant and emotionally riveting.
For a truly immersive experience, you need good sound design. You must be able to track every footstep and notice every interaction without — in this case — an actor to follow. The sound team led by Kevin Gleeson do an amazing job, capturing every minor detail of a simple apartment set – from a squeaky bannister to a shrill screaming teapot. With the headphones on our heads, we can hear everything, every breath, and every sip of terrible coffee. At first, this is a little off-putting but the longer you remain in this environment the more it becomes background noise that you filter for the sounds that truly matter. Namely, the voice acting.
Brian Gleeson and Barbara Probst as Beckett and Suzanne give captivating and emotional performances, breathing life into a truly harrowing and haunting story of resistance against the German occupation and Gestapo scrutiny while bringing a fair share of humour and debauchery to the story. Though the script may slow in pace at times, the delivery of the entire cast keeps you enthralled.
But voice and sound are just one half of this extraordinary performance, the visuals on display truly bring this experience to life. From the visual effects of subtitles that glide effortlessly about the set and a disturbing yet powerful close-up image of a single eye, bloodshot and flickering, its pupil reacting to every visual it was subjected to. This striking image serves as the interlude between acts, an image that would dominate the stage while we listen to an accelerated recap of what had occurred or a musical score. A reel of black and white historical footage appears in the iris showing us the world that was occurring around the apartment at that time, with people disappearing before our eyes in a striking summation of life in occupied Paris. We never see an actor on stage, but we are able to see the characters in the reflections of mirrors and windows and as shadows and silhouettes. Seeing these fleeting images feels more like ghosts or afterimages than real people and adds to the hauntingly beautiful atmosphere created by the story.
However, the backbone of this production is set and puppetry by Andrew Clancy and his team of puppet creators and puppeteers who perform in the stead of actors. Moving and interacting with the entire set and even destroying it when the time is right. Despite the occasional hiccup and object not behaving the way it should, the puppeteers are nearly faultless in their animating of the inanimate.
Overall, Beckett’s Room tries to do something unusual and ends up doing something magical. Seeing the most intimate parts of a person’s life being played out in such a small place, witnessing everything as if in our living rooms, life, death and everything in between, the stories being told in this tiny Parisian apartment between 1942 and 1945 are stories that should not be missed.
Runs until 7 December 2021