Samuel Beckett’s Shorts

(Harvest Rain)


First of all, here’s a friendly reminder to all of you theatre goers to check the starting time of the play you’re going to see. Or in this case, review. Second, it’s generally wise to be somewhat coherent and “with it” when you see a play, especially when it’s something like Samuel Beckett’s Shorts at Harvest Rain. Not observing these vital instructions could see you do something stupid like ….. turn up 10 minutes late instead of 20 minutes early and miss the entire first play!. Mea culpa.

So I’ll be reviewing two-thirds of this production, the second and third of the three shorts. However I was told by a friend I bumped into at Thursday night’s performance that it was only five minutes long, so I could be forgiven for my error. And besides, the other shorts were done well enough for me to give this production a good review. I’m sure if the first was of the same high quality, it makes for an all-round great night out.

Now I have to say straight up that I am not the biggest fan in the world of Samuel Beckett. I remember feeling awfully unintelligent and bourgeoise when I told Paul Sherman (reviewer for Stagediary, noted Brisbane actor and director and Beckett devotee) that I simply couldn’t stand “Waiting for Godot”. It’s probably just the bogan in me, but I couldn’t grasp HOW this three hour long piece of grrr, I’ll take out the obscenities could keep being voted the most important play of the 20th century. OK, sure, you wouldn’t go giving it to anything by Alan Ackbourn, or the one where various high profile gorgeous celebs get their kit off (“The Blue Room”), or anything that Madonna’s been in to try to raise her credibility, but surely there’s something else a bit sparklier than “Godot”?

So with this anti-Beckett mindset, I was fully prepared to have a dreadful time. And it’s a credit to the show, its director and versatile cast that I left thinking maybe it was worth some of my time to have a closer look at Beckett’s works.

Three shorts comprise the production: “Ohio Impromptu” (the one I missed so cannot comment on); “Footfalls”; and “Play”. Beckett only wrote short plays after 1961, and these are all from this period. “Footfalls” takes place in one rectangle of light onstage, with one woman onstage (the powerful Justine Anderson) and the voice of her mother offstage (Sarah McCoy). Anderson’s character (May or Amy, I couldn’t decide and it’s an anagram anyway) paces up and down, and we realise she paces near her mother’s sickbed, mulling over a life unlived. Beckett, I grudgingly admit, has this fantastic wordplay-thing going on where he can convey potent images by the simplest of monosyllables. May’s pacing becomes hyponotic; her few words piercing. The dim light adds atmosphere, but I felt slightly cheated at not being able to clearly see Anderson’s face. Having seen her strong performance in “Trachinian Women”, I would have loved to see her expression as she paced. But then, it’s Beckett and I may have missed the point.

The second act, comprising just the one play (coincidentally entitled “Play”) features Anderson and McCoy again, teaming up with Ron Kelly, who featured in the first short (yup, the one I missed). They perform this three-in-one monologue sitting in large plaster urns, mounted on a stage. Only their heads are visible, and once again the lighting is minimal, so you only get to see the head of the person talking. They weave the story of the husband, the wife, and the mistress, which was initially accompanied by laughs of delight from the audience at the absurdity of it all replaced by attentive silence in order to understand the absurdity of it all. They then repeat the story, making it faster, more flowing. Visually attractive and with amazing acting and vocal work, the effect of “Play” is quite amazing, only hampered slightly by the constant creaks of the follow spot moving swiftly between the three. All three actors aquit themselves well, with Anderson once again the standout.

Best of all, this is a wonderfully brisk night at the theatre. Even the middle play “Footfalls”, which has long periods of not much happening, is executed with great timing it does not outstay its welcome. The show is over just before 9p.m. I would recommend this as a nice entrée into the world of Beckett director Nerida Jaaniste has made sure you get a rough idea of what’s in store if you delve into the full length works.

Gee, listen to me. It sounds as if I could one day possibly think about maybe eventually becoming interested in Beckett. Paul Sherman would be proud.

— Natalie Bochenski
(Performance seen: Wed 11th June 2003)