The audience is plunged into complete silence and darkness at the Royal Court theatre for Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby, a trilogy of Beckett monologues. This is a theatrical experience like no other: the dark and silence are those dislocating kinds of the old sayings where you can’t see your hand in front of your face and really could hear a pin drop. As your eyes begin to adjust to the blackness, a disembodied mouth illuminated by a small spotlight appears on the stage spouting words at an incredible pace. This is our first glimpse of Lisa Dwan’s phenomenal performance.
Dwan’s Not I is a record, apparently, coming in at just nine minutes long – small but perfectly formed, and perfectly performed, demonstrating from the outset of the night her incredible vocal control. She keeps this masterful hold on Beckett’s elusive miniature plays for the full hour, with the audience tight in her grasp too. We stare transfixed, grabbing what little sense we can from the babble of ‘Mouth’ as it questions identity and conveys its impossible pain. There’s something undeniably ‘horror film’ about the whole thing and the atmosphere is unlike any I’ve felt in an auditorium to date.
The onslaught of curious terror continues with Footfalls as Dwan becomes May, a woman pacing outside the room of her elderly mother. A tale of a lost life and mournful agony punctuated by a sequence of nine steps and a turn, this is the longest piece of the three and my favourite. After the explosion of Not I, Footfalls appears to be a piece of welcome tranquillity but is, in reality, just as unsettling as its predecessor. Dwan faces the audience in a faint light to speak with a voice that echoes the tears of a lifetime and eyes that show them. It’s devastating.
The conclusion, Rockaby, is in the same repetitive style typical of Beckett which, combined with the rocking in and out of the eerie light, becomes hypnotic. Dwan’s tightly-focused performance is unforgettable. While the power of the three minute silence between the plays was sadly diminished on the night I attended by whispers among the audience, the moments when the intended quiet was achieved were electrifying. This will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.