Review – First Love

May 24, 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩  Crackles with tension

Conor Lovett in the Gare St Lazare Players Ireland production of First Love by Samuel Beckett, directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett. Photo creadit Ros Kavanagh

Conor Lovett in First Love by Samuel Beckett, directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett. Photo creadit Ros Kavanagh

Traverse Theatre
Thurs 23-Sat 25 May, 2013
Review by Thom Dibdin

Samuel Beckett is back in the house, down in Traverse One with the return of the Gare St Lazare Players and their thorough, particular adaptation of First Love, a short story written in 1948 but not published until 1971.

On the surface, there is little to this first-person narrative. A young man leaves home when his father dies, meets a woman on a bench by the canal and, after a bit of havering, goes to live with her in her flat. Despite his best intentions he is in love.

But such a synopsis is an all-but-inappropriate oversimplification of a tale which twists with spite and failed lassitude. The sweet smell of corpses underlines it and the young man is motivated – if that is not too positive a term to associate with him –  by inertia.

And this is not just about the tale. It’s about the telling of that tale. A telling which starts with a note of suspense as the quietly hypnotic background music which dies away and cuts out just as the melody is about to resolve. Leaving Conor Lovett to take a stage that is already in a state of quiet tension.

Lovett does not so much command the centre of the black-box stage as suck the space into himself. He paces the slightly lit circle – never quite leaving it for the darker square around it. There’s a chair – although it is only used the once. Sometimes he steps right up to the audience to confide an intimacy, but mostly he loiters in the gloaming.

No more than a priapic stirring

As directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett, it is a deliberate, physical performance. Between Beckett’s words and Conor Lovett’s own fine utilisation of his Lecoq training, it comes alive. The hillside cemetery where the father is interred, the rubbish-strewn canal path where he meets Lulu and rests his calves across her thighs, the byre with half-dried cowpats to which he retreats, are all there on the stage.

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Dancing between this imagined scenery is a scenery of the mind; a deeper philosophical examination of the nature of the man’s very existence. The conundrums of life, presented in superficially facile decisions, are bounced around between a narrative that dwells with a certain satisfaction on the vile and foetid. Love is discovered, and revealed to be no more than a priapic stirring.

All the while, Lovett twitches with pauses to the extent that there are times he appears to have misplaced his lines. He hasn’t though – even though his character might do as he falls into moments of profound recollection, having worked up to a point where he is practically spitting venom.

Yes, Beckett is back in the house, down in Trav One, with one of his unlovable, self-centred, morally defunct characters to whom life happens no matter how much he tries to stop it.

Unless, of course, he already has.

First Love won’t be for everyone but this is a performance that crackles with tension and control. And it will be fascinating to compare it to the Gate Theatre Dublin’s production, appearing as a part of this year’s EIF.

Running time 1 hr 20 mins
Run ends Saturday 25 May.
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street EH1 2ED. Thurs-Sat, 7.30pm.

Traverse Theatre website: www.traverse.co.uk

Further details on the Gare St Lazare Players:  www.garestlazareireland.com

Details of the Gate Theatre Dublin’s production of First Love on the EIF website: www.eif.co.uk

ENDS

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