How It Is review: A flawless conjunction of acting and staging

Judy Hegarty Lovett directs Gare St Lazare Ireland’s Samuel Beckett production

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Introducing both cast and crew before the opening of this Gare St Lazare Ireland rendering of Samuel Beckett's novel, at the Everyman in Cork, its director, Judy Hegarty Lovett, suggests a symmetry of ambition. The aim is, or seems to be, to make parallel lines meet and fuse. Here as so often with Beckett the best response is to take what is offered without struggling for interpretation. Engagement is all: that hinted symmetry of performance and stagecraft results in a flawless conjunction of lighting, music, acting and, probably pre-eminently, setting.

This alignment belies the unaligned experience as the audience sits on stage and as the auditorium, sometimes a black void, sometimes glittering in the Everyman’s glamour of scarlet and gilding, becomes a pit where we are all groundlings. A face in silhouette becomes a death mask; a file like cowled monks fades into mist; eloquent hands gesture to an empty theatre.

We have been warned that what we are watching is part one of a three-part novel. This is not a play. There are moments when a more theatrical sense of pace might have been welcome, but as the layers of text merge from monologue to monologue, and one voice is heard a beat ahead or a beat behind the other, the pauses impose a perceptible structure.

The tale is told not by an idiot but by someone emerging on an April morning from the mud of existence; he is burdened by a sack, both womb and pillow, and by memories excavated by repetition and queried by that other echoing consciousness. Conor Lovett’s voice has bewilderment built into it, and his rhythms carry the predicaments of life beyond the prose while Stephen Dillane interrogates the narrative with authority.

As Beckett’s sometimes Shakespearean evocations sink into the last syllable of recorded time the dystopian roar of Mel Mercier’s sound design breaks like surf on the stranded beams of Kris Stone’s lighting.

How It Is ends at the Everyman Palace tomorrow, then runs at the Print Room at the Coronet, in London, from May 3rd to May 19th