We shall be here all night and go home to oblivion. We. Shall. Be. Here. All. Night.
A female choir, cello-violin-piano trio, alto and actor take to the stage. This is Gare St Lazare Ireland, returning to the Print Room for a festival of Beckett in his 110th birthday year and recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin. Did that – back there – sound too musical to be an original Beckett?
It is. And it isn’t. Here All Night is an adaptation in the way that fans coalesce, restructure and reimagine original work. It heralds the first performance of the scores from Beckett’s novel Watt. It explores music and text from across his oeuvre. The company draws this all together with dissonant and absurd cohesion. Tone clusters and discordance from the musicians resonate against small tales of general inanity by actor Conor Lovett. The difficult, fiendishly discordant score is infused with nostalgic strains from Irish jigs. Suddenly, though, it will break into tuneful and decadent songs without ends.
The doses of otherworldly song – by singer Melanie Pappenheim – never intersect the stories with narrative connection. She and Lovett never verbally converse but are together on stage in an active, intentional way. Choir, actor, trio and singer supersede, underscore and accompany each other in a complex intersection of parts that seems so simple in its reality. Unlike the crunchy half tones and chromatic extravangazas of piano keys; the intentionally scratchy violin experiments of sound and “cric-crac” sound-words from the choir, the whole production fits together in a precise harmony. But it does become a little tired by the end and there’s a body hanging centre stage – darkly suspended as an installation – which is a little off key. It was created by Irish artist by Brian O’Doherty and called Hello, Sam Redux (2016).
There are many beginnings in this musical-theatrical work. Our protagonist (Lovett) is a man who forgets. He confesses this to us almost immediately and aptly this confession is about a song – the only song he’s heard that might have been about orange trees or lemon trees. But it was sung by a girl and he can remember that he heard it.
What else? Who knows… There’s less darkness here than in the absurdity of Beckett’s famous plays – less pain and betrayal between characters. Is that because we only have one character? – if he can be called that. He’s just a man telling us fragments of stories that become tangential and then the tangent becomes the story such that the original story becomes lost in the tides of music and story and music and story and music and story and so on.
He’ll start talking about a girl who might be called something or might be called something else. These unknowns and maybes become cleverly funny in performance. Lovett’s delivery is deadpan, understated, honest and humble – soft with Irish tones – and he is gently knowing with his audience. There are smart moments when he comes close to the audience and seems to be speaking directly to us – but no, ’twas another quotation of someone in a story. I was tricked every time. And it was gloriously funny.
What we enjoy about adaptation is the collusion of “repetition and difference” (Hutcheon). That demands, however, the watcher to know that which has been adapted. For me – familiar with Beckett but not with the specific texts adapted – this rather was a new and original work, by Gare St Lazare Ireland. It will fit and feel differently to the initiated. The multi-textured piece had the “suggestive power” of life at its most ephemeral and day-to-day, with its meaningless cut offs and meanings beyond words captured superlatively by Lovett and nuanced by his musical company.
Here All Night is part of the Beckett in London Festival at Notting Hill’s The Print Room at the Coronet. The festival runs until 5 June.