From the initial eruptions of villagey noises to its final despairing howl, Beckett’s exploration of the cold comforts of explosive cantankerousness in the face of age, infirmity and the dark peaks of unhappy memories is cold, intermittently hilarious, ultimately despairing and deliciously bleak.
“A text written to come out of the dark,” according to Beckett, and originally a radio play, the first question to be answered by any performance is one of presentation. Hedgewick and Jashapara’s production opts to plunge the audience into darkness by handing out blindfolds, which we are encouraged (but not forced) to wear, as Mrs Rooney (Miranda Mackay) paces her slow and painful way to the train station. Domineering, emotionally incontinent and never shy of an opinion, Mackay navigates slapstick and tragedy at a dragging, determined step, creating a strong sharp backbone for the piece.
Excellent support from Jon Berry (Christy and Mr Slocum) ensures the early stages spark with dark, dismal and occasionally dirty humour. Susannah Townsend twitters charmingly at the infuriating Miss Fitt during the station wait, achingly untactful. The sense of the enclosed village world of gripes and grumbles and stumbling on to retirement, dissolution and ultimately death becomes increasingly oppressive behind the blindfolds. We scavenge the tiny sounds of the actors moving for clues. With the return of the train and Mr Rooney, the sense of a horror unsaid begins to build. Fred Lynam’s halting, quavery, ill-tempered delivery brings just the right level of disempathy, determination and couple-comfort. Villainy, virtue and the desperate cunning of age and aggravation collide in him.
As the visceral anxiety of yet another dragging step began to build in the later stages of the play, I raised my blindfold occasionally, in curiosity. The lights, though low, were blinding; and the final collapse of tragedy inevitably, unavoidably communicated, devastating.