Conor Lovett gives a deeply masterful performance of Samuel Beckett’s oft-forgotten short story, The End, as part of his one-man Beckett in London festival
Hats, boots, excrement, a hobo and death’s beckoning: many of Beckett’s familiar tropes are here in this prototype of his notoriously absurd plays, as part of a one-man Beckett in London festival at the theatrically derelict fringe theatre The Print Room.
Cast out of a mental institution, the solitary deadbeat protagonist hints at having had a lobotomy, which he hides behind one of Beckett’s signature hats. We bear witness to the putrid descent of the final months or years of his life, right down to the eczema in his behind. As with all of Beckett’s signature down-and-outs, he is struggling to survive and yet waiting to die.
Husband and wife duo Judy Hegarty (director) and Conor Lovett (actor) of Gare St Lazare theatre company have chosen to dramatise this wrongfully neglected short story as a monologue, as part of a new one-man Beckett festival.
Conor Lovett’s mild-mannered performance gives Beckettian futility its perfect theatrical expression: his tone of levity remains steady and unresponsive to his character’s great misfortunes, levelling out the events of his life into a litany of nothings.
The production, which has already toured Europe and the US, was roundly dismissed in The New York Times by Laura Collins-Hughes, who could see no reason why the prose should be dramatised. But this is missing the extraordinarily new and entirely befitting aspect that Judy has brought to the piece:
Rather than describing a human situation for the reader to reflect upon, Lovett and Hegarty have created one in front of an audience so we may experience it. Specifically, the experience of living – or being trapped – in time.
Observing the narrator, disintegrating repulsively as he approaches his End, makes us acutely aware that everything he does is to pass the time, or, as he puts it, ‘play the part’ of someone living. Are we the same? Perhaps his situation only differs to ours in degree rather than kind.
There is total disparity between his description of his own mental and physical putrefaction, and his appearance on stage as articulate and charming, with perfect comic timing. Just a couple of benches form the sparse set and Lovett’s appearance as a bald nondescript middle-aged white man similarly does little to furnish his words.
This paradox is a powerful tool: as an archetype rather than a specific man, his words become a comment on the essential nature of our shared human condition.
Inescapably and meaninglessly alive, one can only wait for The End, though the pain of boredom can be momentarily relieved (as we learn: “Scratching is superior to masturbation”). But of course, as with all Beckett, it’s brutally funny. Lovett deserves significant acclaim for his deeply understood rendition, which holds a mirror to the audience and shows us what it means to be human.