Gare St Lazare’s Here All Night: sparing, cerebral and sensuous

Beckettian word is fused with music, installation art and performance

Here All Night is Gare St Lazare’s interdisciplinary bricolage of prose, music, installation art and performance

Here All Night is Gare St Lazare’s interdisciplinary bricolage of prose, music, installation art and performance

 

Here All Night, Abbey Theatre, Dublin

****

“I’ll fix their gibberish for them,” says the speaker of Beckett’s Unnamable, in a defiant mood, even as his mind is slowly dissolving into nothing. “I never understood a word of it in any case…”

The reader of Beckett’s prose works will know something of the feeling, alternately enthused, amused, bewildered and worn into submission by the onslaught of absurdist verbiage. Here All Night, Gare St Lazare’s interdisciplinary bricolage of prose, music, installation art and performance, decides instead that the words are neither gibberish nor fixed; finding in their collaboration the permission to jam.

To some extent you can read the results – fractured and spliced, ascetic and experimental – as Modernism: The Opera. The centrepiece on a bare dark stage is a sculptural installation by the artist Brian O’Doherty, in which a petrified body is suspended, supine, mid air, like someone laid to rest in a display case. That this artwork has been shucked from its original context is more methodology than sin: the production is all about reappropriation.

Dressed in black and sporting a headset microphone, as though fresh from a Ted Talk, Conor Lovett recites excerpts from Watt, First Love and the Trilogy in his own entirely imitable way. These feel less like narrative than a kind of spoken-word soloing. Elsewhere, words and music coalesce, as when the excellent soprano Melanie Pappenheim and a six-person chorus sing songs and poems extracted from Watt, some according to Beckett’s own musical prescription but, more invigoratingly, most set to original music by Paul Clark.

Performed by a trio of piano, cello and a 10-string fiddle called the Hardanger d’amore, the signature instrument of musical genius Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, here is where the show gets really interesting. Clark’s compositions are as precise and angular as Beckett’s writing. Ó Raghallaigh, for his part, can twist a traditional Irish air into something startlingly spare and new (Beckett would approve) and is allowed to stray and improvise, free from strictures (Beckett would not approve).

Visceral playing

Restrictions over the use of Beckett’s work have thawed hugely over the last decades (hence the show), yet this still feels like a necessary challenge. That’s because there’s an irreconcilable struggle in Beckett between the ungovernable body and the fastidious mind: it’s not for nothing that the texts here are preoccupied, however clinically, with the messy business of eating, having geriatric sex, or dying. The rasp and rattle of Ó Raghallaigh’s breathy, visceral playing, like Lovett’s extemporary style of delivery, remind you that in life we are always planning but forever improvising.

Director Judy Hegarty Lovett invites such associations, from her collaborators and her audience, who are generously encouraged to exchange, riff, take an idea and run with it. Perhaps not quite as far as Beckett would, mind you, whose prose at it most punk absurdist will merrily exhaust anyone’s patience. “The ordinary person eats a meal, then rests from eating for a space, then eats again, then rests again, then eats again, then rests again, then eats again…” (He can’t go on? He’ll go on.)

Here All Night may ration out onions and peppermints ad nauseum, or count out the number of weeks in a year (to the decimal point) with an absorbing musical agitation, and still it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Cerebral and still sensuous, it knows we have to fill the time somehow. 

Here All Night tours Town Hall Theatre, Galway (April 16th); Siamsa Tire, Tralee (April 19th); Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick (April 21st); Everyman Theatre, Cork (April 23rd); National Opera House, Wexford (April 25th); Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire (April 27th & 28th)