Writer: Samuel Beckett
Director: Judy Hegarty Lovett
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
While it’s always a pleasure going to The Print Room, London’s most stylish theatre, it’s also something of a challenge as The Print Room’s programming is among the most uncompromising in the country. Their new show, an adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s 1961 novel, How It Is, is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a tough, but, ultimately rewarding watch.
Conor Lovett and Stephen Dillane play a man and his echo, perhaps different characters or perhaps two sides of the same man. Lovett is Irish, and hesitant; he looks to the floor despondently; he’s economic with his hands. Dillane is English, confident, proudly phlegmatic; he engages with the audience, and his hands are often expansive. However, despite their differences, the two men face the same fate. They are both sinking in mud in, what at first, seems like their final days, but then again, every day could be like this. They won’t starve as they carry around a sack containing tins of food, and a tin opener. They’ve been here before, times when they had tins but no tin opener, or times with an opener and no tins. So, compared to previous periods, they’ve got it good, and even manage to find happiness in the filth.
In How It Is, Beckett explores a landscape similar to that in Godot, Happy Days and Not I, demonstrating the absurdity of life. It could be argued that the life Lovett and Dillane lead on stage is a metaphor for the life we lead; it’s just that we don’t always see how deeply our bodies are trapped in the quagmire. How It Is (Part One)is a bleak examination of the human condition.
This desolation is matched by some clever staging. The Print Room’s seating has been moved to the stage and now the audience look at the vacant seats of the stalls and the balcony of the old cinema. At one point, the actors turn their backs on the audience and play to the emptiness of the auditorium, underscoring life’s pervasive loneliness. Most of the action – if we can call it that – takes place on a thin strip on the makeshift stage, but at other times the men haunt the upper reaches of the cinema. With sympathetic lighting from Simon Bennison, and a gloomy sound text by Mel Mercier, who also lends his voice to the proceedings, this is a site-specific show like no other.
Lovett and director Judy Hegarty Lovett are joint artistic directors of Gare St Lazare Ireland, the world’s leading interpreters of both the plays and prose of Beckett. They appear to have caught the philosophy of his texts and the poetry of his words. Presumably, this 105-minute play is the distillation of only Part One of Beckett’s novel, and that we have Parts Two and Three to look forward to in the future. Unless, there is no Part Two, like, perhaps, life itself: being stuck in the mud is maybe all there is to life. While there is no actual mud on stage, this production is so deep you will still need your wellies!
Runs until 19 May 2018 | Image: