Feasting on Beckett

Joseph Hallows and Jonathan Brown in Samuel Beckett's 'Rough For Theatre II' directed by Michael Sams. IMAGE: Paul Freeman

There’s something incredibly intimate and vulnerable about short plays. You only have limited time on stage, so every moment counts. Full Throttle Theatre Company knows this well: last year’s Three Courses in European Theatre showcased realism, epic theatre and theatre of the absurd in the one production, while this year’s serving offered three shorter performances penned by Waiting for Godot playwright, Samuel Beckett.

Rough For Theatre II, directed by Michael Sams, was first.

The presence of a third non-moving, non-speaking figure in this play was extremely powerful. He was there before the other actors entered the performance space, however the audience was left questioning whether he would jump before they left. The play poses a question on the correlation between hope and hopelessness, as the figures on stage searched for redeeming features in a life of disappointment. The timing and wit of both actors was impeccable, and delivered with the confident dryness of polished professionals. There were times when Joseph [Hallows] seemed to flick through documents for longer than necessary that had me questioning if he was searching for his next line, so there may be room to cut back on pauses in places, but otherwise both Jonathan Brown and Joseph Hallows were incredible and can’t be commended enough. The lighting – provided only by two desk lamps – in this play was also especially beautiful and effective: they aren’t just used to brighten the space, but add to the comedy and narrative with their flickering and adding another beautiful element shining through sheets to outline the silhouette of a birdcage.

Come and Go, directed by Madonna Davies, was next. 

Although it was the shortest play of the night, there was a lot jam-packed into it: Come and Go showcases the interconnectedness between three old friends, and is filled with at least 50 more Shakespeare references than you’d think at first glance. This play features only 121-127 words, depending on the translation, so every line counts: and costuming has played a huge part in placing the emphasis on dialogue, with hats over faces and long, monotone dresses meaning the only human characteristic we see is each actor’s mouth. The styling is beautifully enigmatic, piquing curiosity and drawing the viewer in wanting to know more. The actual performance was simple; repetitive; ritualistic; almost mechanical.

Barbara White, Anne Coombe and Kath Hotschilt in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Come and Go,’ directed by Madonna Davies. IMAGE: Paul Freeman

Silence played a huge part, leaving time for the audience to question what they were watching and how it reflects on their own relationships – and how information and gossip pass between us. All three ladies were incredibly talented and delivered faultless performances, however special mention must go to Barbara White. Barbara broke her arm several weeks ago, rendering her unable to fulfill her part in Townsville Little Theatre’s Blithe Spirit, however this performance marked a triumphant return to stage for her, with us not realising it was her – or that her arm was broken – until she walked out after the show with her arm back in its sling.

Krapp’s Last Tape, directed by and starring Todd Barty, rounded out the evening.

You could tell this was a Barty production as soon as the set was in place: from the towering colourful clock wall to the warped windows and piles of boxes, the audience was invited to feel that they were somewhere a little mad – which became more obvious as the performance began.

Todd Barty in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Krapp’s Last Tape,’ directed by Todd Barty. IMAGE: Paul Freeman

Todd has the powerful stage presence of a mad scientist, conducting an experiment the audience is not privy to, but nonetheless totally engrossed in. Beginning the play interacting with bananas was more hilarious than you would think it could be – the almost robotic movements of walking around the desk, selecting the fruit from the box, reversing, walking across stage, and eating it was a routine we quickly became accustomed to, however we are kept interested with something slightly different occuring each time: from refraining from eating the banana to pulling out a spool of audio instead, we were engrossed by the actions which had their own comedy weaved throughout. However what started as an enthralling piece of theatre sadly diminished into something less engaging, with the strong reliance on pre-recorded audio. This style likely stays true to Beckett’s original intent, but something was lost here. Todd is an incredible actor, so his reactions listening to the audio do fill out the performance, but also limit the amount he can do. Beckett has once again filled his work with a lot of powerful messages with Krapp’s. Memories are cruel and unreliable – even when recorded on tape. Time makes a fool of us all; we so often make resolutions to better ourselves and learn from our past, but Krapp’s story shows that unless we take action on these, resolutions alone are futile.

There really is something intimate about theatre at this level of simplicity – which is testament to both both Beckett’s original work and the marvellous restraint of the Full Throttle team, as well as the venue itself. There was no fancy lighting, sets, or sound – just actors and their audience. While the staging of Beckett’s plays is always famously simple, the complexity of his work is astounding: from allusions in characters’ names to seemingly throw-away lines, everything has a place and purpose. Three Courses is well worth seeing, and well worth following up with a little reading on each play. It’s worth comparing your own interpretation with others, as well as Beckett’s intended meaning – adding completely new layers to the work.

Loosen your belt: Full Throttle Theatre Company’s Three Courses in Beckett fills you with top-quality performances that will leave you asking for seconds.

Catch Full Throttle Theatre Company’s Three Courses in Beckett  from 18-22 October, with tickets available here. Due to low dinner reservations, there is no longer an option to book dinner with the show.

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