Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Three Plays by Samuel Beckett

Ruth is Stranger Than Richard , Chapter Arts Centre Cardiff , July-28-05
The ‘Ruth is Stranger Than Richard’ company under its Artistic Director Adele Thomas is one of the most interesting and vibrant companies to arrive in Wales since the creation of Volcano Theatre. These two companies work in very different ways but both share a desire to challenge both the theatrical status quo and their audiences. It was certainly a brave move to stage three of Beckett’s most minimalist plays as a part of the current Cardiff Passion Festival.

Beckett burst on to the world theatrical scene in 1953 with his first play ‘Waiting for Godot’ I was privileged to see a Bristol Old Vic production a year or two later staring, and they were stars, Peter O’Toole and Peter Jeffrey. There were many glittering words in this play and a great deal of humour all underlined by a cynical philosophy with no small touch of whimsy. There is no doubt that Beckett was deadly serious about his work but beneath his sad expression there always seemed to be a wry smile at the condition of the human race.

Twenty years on, and in that time he had often said that there were far too many words, he produced ‘Not I’, one of a number of ‘minimalists’ works. This play is one long stream of words; all we see is a woman’s mouth protruding through a dark crack in a wall. Nearby stands an auditor enveloped from head to foot in a black djellaba

According to the author’s dictate the moth must be lit by only a torch not a modern spotlight, this caused a great deal of trouble for students from Glasgow’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama at The Edinburgh Festival last year. They were forced to change their whole show around and do it the way Beckett wanted it done. I guess it’s a good thing the works of Shakespeare don’t rest in the hands of such rigid trustees.

Actress Lucy Rivers has a tough task. Once her opening unintelligible babbling has stopped her words become very clear but she has to speak them at a very fast pace. Now there is a big difference between speed and pace. We were not given sufficient time to absorb enough details of what was being said. Every word of Beckett’s is a well-crafted jewel. This delivery was just the wrong side of that fine line drawn between keeping the dialogue flowing quickly and giving us enough time to get the full meaning from the words. We did a get a touch of the frustration, the questioning of being and the ridiculousness of God. But then it just faded away. I had to check the script to catch the play’s final note of hope and renewal. “new every morning…back in the field…face in the grass…nothing but larks…”

All three plays carried a strong atmosphere of loss, of displaced human nature. However much as Matthew Bulgo’s ‘Words’ might have wanted to help his failing master, Terry Victor’s dying ‘Croak’ you knew he would never succeed.

The final play in the trio, ‘Footfalls’, directed by Sarah Dodd maintained the dark atmosphere. Nickie Rainsford really looked as if she had been pounding that carpet for years and worn it to threads; her voice whispered in a beautiful harmony with each step she took and with the, off-stage, voice of her mother, Gerri Smith, raising the one laugh of the evening. Again there was little to be optimistic about in this relationship. There was little dynamism in this evening of desolation – none was called for. These actors were more like scientist working in a laboratory. They can be pleased with the success of their interesting and challenging theatrical experiment

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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