How It Is: Six hours of Samuel Beckett, and it’s hard to click pause

Dublin Theatre Festival: Conor Lovett leads Gare St Lazare Ireland’s filmed production

HOW IT IS

Online
★★★☆☆
Even the most ardent of Samuel Beckett enthusiasts may quail at the six-hour duration of this rendition of his novel How It Is, which has been given its world premiere online as part of Dublin Theatre Festival. Yet the thrall of the paired voices carrying Beckett's intense inquisition of existence can make it difficult to click pause.

This production by Gare St Lazare Ireland and Maura O’Keefe threads the third part into the earlier theatre presentations of Parts 1 and 2 and exposes all three to the technical risks of filmic priorities.

In a script of hallowed prose, location is given primacy. The nuances, glooms and distances of the first performances are recaptured in Judy Hegarty Lovett’s direction and design, with film lighting by Simon Bennison exploiting the visual opportunities of the Everyman, the Cork theatre where the production has been filmed, from roof to pit. Distributed through those innards, the spoken text from Conor Lovett and Stephen Dillane resounds in monologues pitched between precision and bewilderment.

In a succession of casual horrors and slipshod cruelties, the associative prose shapes tension with weighted hesitations, silences and intrusions

The incantatory strains of the Irish Gamelan Orchestra, under the composer and sound designer Mel Mercier with Mónckk, enhance the dystopian atmosphere hinted by Beckett’s grammar of living: past, present, future and conditional.

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In a succession of casual horrors and slipshod cruelties, the associative prose shapes tension with weighted hesitations, silences and intrusions. Repetition brings rhythm until, finding life’s mud and dark all true, part three is welcomed as hinting at an end. “I fall asleep within humanity again. Just barely,” says Lovett.

Presented by the Everyman in partnership with the Coronet Theatre in London, this patchwork of genres is creatively characteristic of Gare St Lazare Ireland, always unafraid of the double-edged sword of innovation. Here the free-range approach to available spaces taken by the film’s director (and editor, with Zen Grisdale), Louis Hegarty Lovett, is short on relevance, although Mark Padmore’s gentle leider from the circle’s balcony suggests a threnody.

Filmed by Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, some arresting close-ups seem to insist that a performance to the camera can be as intimate as one on any stage, but on this evidence the verdict has to be not proven, or at least not yet.

On demand until Thursday, October 7th, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival