Not I, Rockaby & Catastrophe by Samuel Beckett. The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London SE4 to 7 March 2020. 3***. William Russell.

The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 brockley Road, London SE4 2JH to 7 March 2020.
Tues – Sat 7.30pm.
Runs 60 mins. No interval.
TICKETS: 0333 666 3366
Review: William Russell 27 February.
“Not for the faint hearted” was what I said of the previous visit to the Jack by the Angel Theatre company with two Beckett plays, and this return with three short pieces is arguably even harder stuff to get to grips with. That time they got four stars; this time, while it is no reflection on the skill of the performers, the missing star is quite simply that I am less convinced by the choice of the plays. Director John Patterson is arguably asking too much of his audience because all three are tricky to follow – and opening with Not I, the play first performed by Billie Whitelaw, the actress who became hBeckett’s muse, is really challenging. Samantha Kamras copes splendidly with the torrent of words – she plays a woman discovering the power of speech – but all we see is her mouth, and therein lies part of the problem. Patterson chose to open with it, which was asking a lot of his audience. The woman is speaking from behind a black screen through a tiny circular hole so that all we see is her mouth – trouble is that they appear to have blacked out her face as some of it is within that circle – and it looked suspiciously like a moustache to me which distracted attention. How one puts the mouth on stage is presumably a problem for any director although Beckett does lay down his rules and expected them to be obeyed – I did not see Whitelaw do it so I do not know how that was staged, but I gather Patterson has obeyed the Beckett rules to the letter. So – a difficult opening play followed by Catastrophe in which a woman is arranging a figure on a plinth only to be interrupted and told what to do by the director. The figure is passive, but at the end reacts suddenly. It is about the individual facing up to a society ruled by a dictator – but it is only at the end you realise this. The third play, Rockaby has an old woman in a rocking chair in endless motion while we hear her thoughts as she looks back on her past. Then the rocking stops. All three plays are impeccably performed – the interruption of the director played by Stephen Donald is chilling, and Anna Bonnett delivers the woman’s thoughts in Rockaby very movingly. On press night there was no following Q&A with Patterson, which was a pity for that audience – they will be held on subsequent nights except for 7 March. Compiling this sort of triple bill does present problems. Beckett seems to be everywhere at the moment. Trevor Nunn has just directed a trio at Jermyn Street – Krapp’s Last Tape, Eh Joe – in which a man sits silently listing to the voice of a woman in his thoughts who is berating him – and The Old Tune in which two old men on a park bench forget the past they shared. It was a much better balance of material – for me at least. The Old Vic double bill of Endgame and Rough for the Theatre 11 is slightly different in that there is an all star cast led by Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Cummings and Jane Horrocks – there it is more who is on stage than what that gets the audience in. Waiting for Godot in particular has become a show case for the great and elderly men of the theatre just as Happy Days has for the women.
At the Jack the players, who are all up to the challenger of the material, are not the reason for going – it is Beckett and seeing what the Angel Theatre Company has done this time round perhaps. At Jermyn Street Nunn sent his audience out with a third play about the two old men on the park bench which, for all that it was about the failings of old age, of memories muddled, of an ending of days, was actually very funny. Rockaby is deeply depressing. But be not faint of heart. Wait for that Q&A and take Mr Patterson to task. He has asked a lot of his audience. The audience should start asking back.
Not I
Mouth: Samantha Kamras.
Woman: Anna Bonnett.
Director: Stephen Donald.
Assistant: Joanna Clarke.
Protagonist: Louis Fox.

Director: John Patterson.
Stage Manager & Lighting/Sound Operator: Francesca Coleman.
Sound Engineer: Oisin O’Regan.
Technician: Daniel Gurd.
Production Photography: Angel Theatre Company.

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