Samuel Beckett’s The End review

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.

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Preview: The Way Back Home, The Young Vic

This first collaboration between The Young Vic and the English National Opera is an introduction to the art form for children. The Way Back Home is adapted from the cherished children’s book by Oliver Jeffers, an inspirational tale of a boy who makes an Icarus-like flight into the sky, beforecrash landing on the moon.

Here, he must learn to extend his hand in interstellar friendship to an initially terrifying Martian, similarly lost and in need of help to find The Way Back Home.

Katie Mitchell, awarded an OBE for her auteurist contributions to British theatre, and Vicki Mortimer, whose vast body of design has accompanied everything from Beckett to classical opera, are the attractive team behind this production. They previously brought us Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat at the National Theatre, which The Telegraph have predicted will ‘become a national institution’.

Rory Mullarkey, who in this year alone has been awarded the Pinter Commission, the George Devine Award and the James Tait Black prize, has adapted the script from the original. The score, performed by the ENO orchestra, comes to us from Joanna Lee, described by the Guardian as a ‘considerable talent’ We think she’s just the right fit to bring this story alive for ages 5-8 and any adult associates equally open to the lessons contained (and a wonderful night at the opera).

Originally published by Culture Whisper.

Preview: Marilynne Robinson, The Southbank Centre

The new novel from literary great Marilynne Robinson, Lila, has collected critical acclaim and will form the theme of an insightful literary lecture.

If you haven’t read Marilynne Robinson already, please do. It only takes a short while to read her entire oeuvre, but her richly beautiful prose is powerfully affective. She first turned heads with her novel Housekeeping in 1981, and was immediately considered a literary great, though she did not publish another novel for 20 years. Since then she has become a Pulitzer and Orange prize winner. Now she comes to talk at the Southbank Centre after the upcoming publication of her fourth novel Lila in October.

Robinson also writes non-fiction and is known for arguing that positivism – the Dawkins style worldview that the means to truth is only through the scientific – is highly reductive of humanity and does not leave any space for all the other kinds of spiritual truths that can’t be proved in a laboratory.

Her writing reflects this: by weaving past and present together through precise and sensory detail, she imbues every moment with metaphorical significance, which takes on a quality of thenuminous. These many layered novels contain volumes more than their small page counts.

Robinson is an intensely deep thinker, and is also a wonderful speaker. Expect to be touched by her graciousness and purity of heart.

Originally published by Culture Whisper.

Preview: Raymond Tallis and Julian Spalding on The Purpose of the Arts Today

Hear two leaders of contemporary thought, talking about why the arts are essential to our experience of the world as human beings.

 What is the purpose of the arts today? Ever asked this question, or indeed been asked it? Whether or not you’ve been able to vocalise what it is that makes art a pressing need, here are two who definitely can. Raymond Tallis and Julian Spalding have co-written a book entitled Summers of Discontent: The Purpose of the Arts Today, and are coming to King’s Place to discuss its contents, with audience participation warmly invited.

The main thrust behind the book is that art is created because of the urgent need for a means ofprocessing the world around us, without which we cannot wholly experience.

Raymond Tallis’s accomplishments are as eclectic as they come: a neuroscientist, a novelist, a cultural critic, a philosopher, a poet… he is a major thinker in more fields than most of his readers can follow him to. His publications include such titles as Why the Mind is Not a Computer and I Am: A Philosophical Inquiry into First-Person Being.

Julian Spalding is the maverick art critic who is best known for calling the bluff of the contemporary conceptual art world, most memorably Damien Hirst. He is also an outspoken broadcaster, the author of The Art of Wonder and founder of many innovative galleries throughout the UK.

Hear experts speak engagingly and humanly on a topic that has endured discussion from the time of the Ancient Greeks and is still relevant today as we emerge from a recession which caused much upset over arts funding and sparked the creative industries’ battle cry: “it’s a credit crunch, not a creative crunch”.

Preview: Egon Schiele, Freud Museum

Schiele's life was rife with sexual intrigue and his art was burnt before his eyes. Art historian Gemma Blackshaw explains his work in the context of pornography at the time.

Egon Schiele died of the Spanish Flu when he was only 28. It killed over 20 million people in Europe at the close of the First World War. But by this time he had already been imprisoned for exhibition of pornographic material to minors and for charges which were later dropped, of seducing and abducting an underage girl. On his arrest police seized over a hundred of his paintings that they considered to be erotic.

His journals from his time in prison show his reaction to the ceremonious burning over a candle flame in court of one of his paintings of a semi-naked woman:

“Auto-da-fé! Savanarola! Inquisition! Middle Ages! Castration, hypocrisy! Go then to the museums and cut up the greatest works of art into little pieces. He who denies sex is a filthy person who smears him in the lowest way his own parents who have begotten him.”

Schiele had studied at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna, but moved away from it and founded the New Art Group (Neukunstgruppe), where he was somewhat more free from the restrictive Academy to explore sexuality through his work. The naked woman remained a main trope of his work, right up until the end. His last drawings in the 3 days between his and his wife’s death were nudes, some in masturbatory poses.

For lovers of Schiele, this upcoming talk at the Freud Museum will shed some light on his raw,painfully crazed portraits. Gemma Blackshaw, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Plymouth, speaks as part of a season of talks and events at the Freud Museum accompanying their exhibition ‘Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing’ from 22 October 2014 – 22 February 2015.

Originally published by Culture Whisper.

Preview: The Moth StorySLAM, The Book Club

Members of the public compete to tell the best stories in this much awaited cult event which has gathered a huge following on both sides of the Atlantic.

The New York phenomenon that has been sweeping The States and beyond has finally come to London: The Moth StorySLAM tickets are an outrageous £5 for this not-for-profit, and sold out immediately for the first two London events, so keep your fingers on the buzzer for this one – the release date has been announced, and tickets will go on sale on the 24th September.

Stories are everywhere. From the young child who desperately begs to be told a story at bedtime, to the grandparent who tells and retells favourite narratives from a life already lived, the need for stories is an urgent one, present in everyone – all ages, all cultures, both tellers and listeners. This is what The Moth StorySLAM has tapped into, and which audiences flock to – like moths to a flame.

This not-for-profit organisation goes deeper than appealing to our natural nosiness. We all have stories that we tell ourselves, stories that make up our identities. We narrativise our lives in an attempt to gain access to ourselves. To tell a story is to learn by finding patterns and poetics in the otherwise arbitrary events of one’s life. On the receiving end, stories have an intense power to engage the empathy of the listener, breaking down all manner of barriers.

At The Moth StorySLAM, storyteller hopefuls (who’ve prepared a tale based on the theme of the month) will put their names in The Moth hat. Names are picked and, one by one, storytellers take the stage. Each teller  has just five minutes, and those tellers are scored by teams of judges selected from the audience. Storytellers have no page in front of them. They are, true to the open mic format, ordinary people who have had something extraordinary, or hilariously ordinary, happen to them, given a chance to share it with a diverse audience in their own voice.

If you haven’t already spent years yearning to see The Moth live from this side of The Pond, you can get a taster by listening to their podcast. Our favourite Moth story is entitled Life on a Möbius Strip , told by a young astrophysicist who finds wild parallels in her research and personal life.

Originally published by Culture Whisper.

Preview: Assassins, The Menier Chocolate Factory

TV mega star Catherine Tate comes to an 150 seat intimate fringe venue in the spectacular black comedy musical Assassins.

Catherine Tate is coming to the Menier Chocolate Factory as the lead role in the 90s Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins. But this is not your average musical: it opens with the Presidential anthem “Hail to the Chief” eerily distorted as it plays through the steam and whistles of a carnival calliope. Set in the shooting gallery of an American fairground emblazoned with “Shoot the President – win a Prize”, the production sees real life historical assassins take to the stage to uphold their “right to be happy” (i.e. the right to bear arms, protected by the US consitution).

Expect demented hilarity that will send tears of laughter from streaming down your face, and yet have you half wishing you weren’t laughing at all, as the play examines giant American themes of the dark side of power and celebrity. It sounds truly bonkers, but under the award winning direction of Jamie Lloyd and with such a stellar cast, including such musical acting greats as Mike McShane and Carly Bawden, we trust this will be a spectacular night.

Tate is best known for her TV roles on Doctor Who and The Catherine Tate Show, but in fact she is no stranger to the stage, which is where she started with prestigious companies such as the National Theatre and the RSC. Her last major stage role in the UK was as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing at the Wyndham Theatre in 2011, which she couldn’t have suited better. This is a woman at the top of her powers, using her comedy prowess to tackle intense subject matter in a role quite different from anything she has done before.

Preview: Will Self, Polly Stenham, Ruth Padel, Howard Jacobson, Esther Freud, 5×15 stories, The Tabernacle

A truly unrepeatable evening with a selection of the top writers of our time, each of whom would like to tell you a story.

Five towering names of today’s literary world, spanning theatre, novels, poetry and non-fiction, come together for one evening to elicit your wholehearted attention while they pour their hearts out in five 15-minute stories.

Will Self, Umbrella author, journalist, and speaker of dizzying agility on any number of topics – from psychiatry to psychogeography – is undoubtably a phenomenal storyteller. Not comfortable with conformity, Self’s biting intelligence provides hilarity, disruptive controversy, and always an enthralling experience.

Polly Stenham, ‘Tusk Tusk’ writer, is the 28-year-old who has been a revered playwright since the age of 19 when her debut play ‘That Face’ premiered at the Royal Court Theatre. Theatre critic Charles Spencer said “This is one of the most astonishing debuts I have seen in more than 30 years of theatre reviewing.” She has recently been living up to the hype with her absorbing and ascerbic play, ‘Hotel’, which ended its run at the National’s temporary Shed theatre this month.

Ruth Padel is not only a well loved poet, but also a critic, nature writer, musician, conservationist, regular broadcaster on BBC radio, and recently a novelist with her book Where the Serpent Lives . She will be speaking at this event on just two of her passions – poetry and music.

Howard Jacobson, Booker Prize winner with his novel The Finkler Question in 2010, is running again this year for J . We predict the writer will speak about his experiences in light of recent conflict in Gaza; this is an unmissable moment to hear a man best known for exploring issues surrounding British Jewry, whether it be through non-fiction or in his comic novels.

Esther Freud, Hideous Kinky author and great granddaughter of Sigmund, has been named one of the 20 ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ by Granta. Her latest novel, Mr Mac and Me, published this September, is rooted in the real life story of Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, painting a portrait of the home front community during the First World War.

Originally published by Culture Whisper.

Preview: Freak, Anna Jordan, Theatre503

Anna Jordan’s new play comes to London after gathering quite a following at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

‘I don’t believe in writing plays without humour and hope’, says Anna Jordan, writer of ‘Freak’, which has come straight to us from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. ‘Freak’ is a new sex-fuelled play about young women whose driven sexualities place them as rebels against society. We can expect to be taken on a whirlwind ride by a play that moves from warmth and wit to the uncomfortably wretched.

‘Freak’ was the word on everybody’s lips when we visited the Edinburgh Fringe, and A Younger Theatre described the production as ‘capturing the Lambrini-soaked malaise of youth with rare precision’. We’ve already noticed a new literary trend of bad girl heroines who are reacting against the idea that to be a powerful women is to be perfectly in control. Instead they are, as Eat my Heart Out author Zoe Pilger put it in her conversation with Culture Whisper, ‘failing at being a woman to achieve a kind of freedom.’ We’re glad that this production shows women across the arts are taking their turn to glorify callous hedonism.

Anna Jordan was the winner of the Bruntwood Prize 2013 with her play ‘Yen’: a story about how environment defines us, inspired by a real life event Jordan read about in a local paper in which two boys, too young to have developed into into fully fledged personalities, commit an unthinkable murder. Her previous plays have had runs at the Bush Theatre and the Soho Theatre, and her writing has been described by The Observer as “Unflinching … laugh out loud funny”. If her recent successes are anything to go by, this will be an production that invigorates and leaves you the audience with plenty to think about.

To give you a flavour of the delicious inventiveness and clarity of Jordan’s writing (and also of the graphic and sexually explicit adult content), click here to download Freak’s opening monologue.