LARA FERRIS enjoys a mysterious evening of Beckett.
Meet outside St John’s Chophouse, 10.45pm, 25th February, £6/£5
Part of Roughs’ appeal is its mystery. I’d heard various rumours about secret locations and blindfolds. As I was met outside St Johns’ Chophouse by a group of actors dressed in black and with masking tape over their mouths, I knew the evening was not going to disappoint.
I think if you like Beckett, you’ll enjoy Roughs, and if you don’t, you won’t. He’s renowned for being rather obtuse and sometimes disturbing, and really there is nothing more disorientating and therefore fitting to the general atmosphere of his work than being blindfolded for the better part of half an hour, and listening to snatches of conversation. You eavesdrop on characters talking about an obscure subject that, try as you might, you can’t quite grasp. But the experience of being a Roughs audience member is not really about trying to understand what’s happening, but to experience the various emotions and conflicts within the room, to follow the voices as they move around you in the darkness, and to register your own emotions and reactions to what is happening (or what you think might be happening).
The two radio plays are dark and sometimes funny, although the second is also very unsettling. The stories appear to be linked, with snippets of the second scene heard in the first, and characters from the first play talked about in the second. Listen out for Luke Sumner’s excellent rendition of the word ‘Madam’ which, in true Beckett style, becomes more absurd with each repetition. Sam Clayton, as the Animator, is wonderfully creepy. Credit must also go to the strange violinist, who played beautifully as we all trooped in, setting the tone for what was to come.
The strange experience is made worthwhile because, when your eyes are taken away, you begin to use your other senses. Behind the blindfold you create a mental picture of where the action might be taking place, and you tune into the heavy breathing of the actors and the fuzz of the radio in order to orientate yourself and anchor the story in some conceivable reality. Without giving away any of the plot (and thus depriving future audience members of the experience of unravelling the story for themselves) the two pieces revolve around repetition, memory and discovery. In a way the darkness adds rather than removes a dimension to the narrative, as the play begins to work itself inside your head. When the characters are intense or violent, it becomes more unpleasant and visceral than it would be if you were either seeing the action onstage, or listening to the radio play in a normal situation.
This is a brave and interesting production, and director Tristram Fane-Saunders must be applauded for having first the idea to stage a rehearsed reading in this manner, and then the guts to pull it off. I don’t think this production is for everyone – I enjoyed it because I like experimental theatre, and know enough about Beckett’s writing style to be able to go along with what might otherwise turn into quite a frustrating performance. Someone else could have a very different experience. Still, if you’re curious and up for a challenge, then I recommend Roughs. There’s nothing quite like it.