Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Company SJ and Barabbas, 'Rough For Theatre One' & 'Act Without Words II': In Dublin's Fair City

Meet at the Screen Cinema, Dublin Fringe Festival
Sept 14-17

My review of Rough For Theatre One and Act Without Words II by Samuel Beckett coming up just as soon as I scratch an old jangle to the four winds ...

The characters in Beckett's plays are always waiting, always enduring a constant refusal of time to pass. But as we walk the city streets at night towards the secret performance venue for Company SJ and Barabbas's co-production, we notice that a different era sits on either side of our path. On one side are the red brick houses from Beckett's time, on the other are the glass fronts of the Irish Times building and the concrete offices of the Ulster Bank Group Centre on George's Quay. The juxtaposition signifies that time has in fact moved, as Beckett's tragicomedy, which was born in the post-war fires of mid-twentieth century Europe, relocates to the devastated streets of today's Dublin.

An empty car park is converted into a visual art exhibition. Quotes from Waiting for Godot and Endgame, written in chalk and illuminated by candlelight, suggest lives of pain and suffering. In one corner lies discarded iconography of church and state - a torn copy of Poblacht na hÉireann and a lost statue of the Virgin Mary - remnants of the forces that once constituted us, now shattered in pieces and lying in the wreckage along a condom wrapper and a syringe. 

"You were not always as you are", says the cripple (Raymond Keane) in Rough For Theatre One. We believe him as he and the blind violin player (Trevor Knight) resemble those we see on the streets everyday, struggling with homelessness and addiction. The cripple, mischievously conducting himself in his wheelchair, suggests that both are made for each other, and as he tries to manipulate the blind man into pushing his chair, the play takes on a sensitivity towards abuse.

The performances are wickedly excellent and Sarah Jane Scaife directs with divine detail. Where once the pauses in Beckett's work struck silence in an auditorium, here they are filled with the hums and cries of the city. And when the blind man stops and listens for a strain from a treasured harp, the symbolism of it is powerfully felt.

If Rough For Theatre One can portray the darker side of relations in that community, the mime play Act Without Words II can find kindness. As the title suggests, no words are spoken, but its physical lines of delivery are intense, and on this occasion are met by Barabbas's Keane and Bryan Burroughs. 

Slowly and gruntingly unfurling from a sleeping bag, Keane presents us with the sad image of a man trembling through a routine, executed with slow and pained movement. When he takes a pill, as prescribed by the script, he gives an expression of relief, possibly euphoria, and the performance suggests heavily towards addiction. 

Burroughs buzzes through the second half, regularly checking his watch in anticipation of an event. When it comes to his character's ultimate act, it's affecting how selfless it is. You can also tell that he's listening out for the city, and will allow himself to be halted by a car horn or a shout from a nearby street, incorporating the sounds of Dublin into Beckett's stage direction. 

Beckett can often be seen as an estranging figure but these productions prove that he was in fact a visionary, his words capable of containing the wickedness and beauty of a time after they were written. Scaife, Keane and company have relocated the devastation of his work to a modern setting, and that makes him as relevant as ever. 

What did everybody else think?

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