Lessness: Solace in Beckett’s world without end | GIAF review

Samuel Beckett’s late prose piece, written in fragments and pieced together at random, becomes oddly lulling

Olwen Fouéré: intent and solemn throughout, determined to communicate. Photograph: Tristram Kenton


An Taidhbhearc, Galway


It may seem like a hiding to nothing or a mordant little joke, but Olwen Fouéré's appropriately ascetic performance of Samuel Beckett's late prose piece, Lessness – written in fragments and pieced together at random – seems to be an attempt to get the message.


Sharing a long white desk with an anglepoise lamp, Fouéré clasps her hands neatly, lets her steely eyes scan the horizon and listens intently as Beckett’s words are relayed to her through headphones.

It's as though she is receiving a distant, decayed transmission from the end of the world. That, more or less, is the case with Lessness.

Beckett’s short text doesn’t lend itself to easy decoding, yet it describes human persistence in a world of bleak infinity: a sensation that many of his readers will find familiar.

On the page, it is up to us to parse each sentence, beginning with the first: “Ruins true refuge long last towards which so many false time out of mind.” There is something pointed in that collapse: the ruins, it becomes apparent, are also a refuge, in an apocalyptic grey landscape where we find a vulnerable exhausted figure: “Grey face two pale blue little body heart beating only upright.”

Here, Fouéré eschews the bravura performance style that defined her celebrated Riverrun, for a text that makes entropy its subject. Like the blank white projection above her, images flicker rather than form. Fouéré is intent and solemn throughout, determined to communicate, imposing a modest shape on the text. It's still a matter of debate as to whether Beckett did this himself: the composition of Lessness has attracted mathematical and musical analysis, but the Emergency Room's staging – co-conceived by Fouéré, Kellie Hughes, Sarah Jane Shiels and John Crudden – is persuasively experiential.

Fouéré’s voice, all but unmodulated, allows the words to retreat, surge or stack, letting pictures materialise and dematerialise. That’s in line with a fractured text that lets the past and future concertina into “issueless” origins and the blank expanse of “endlessness”.

Against the hypnotic drone soundtrack of Phill Niblock's Stosspeng, it becomes an oddly lulling experience, where repeated phrases chime into surprisingly positive associations.

Our “little body” figure surveys the “changlessness” of a world in ruins, yet “dreams of other nights better days” and knows “he will make it”. He can’t go on. He’ll go on.

Between the two iterations of Lessness, Fouéré allows her head to bow slowly, then rise with renewed purpose in emulation of that great Beckettian paradox. Her performance may be short and haunting, but it finds some solace in that suggested eternity. When everything has finally collapsed into ruins, it has a chance to begin again; this is a world without end. Until July 26th 

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about theatre, television and other aspects of culture