No’s Knife

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green reviews the enigmatic and demanding play, No's Knife, adapted from Samuel Beckett's Texts for Nothing.

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A voice is given to a lost soul in No’s Knife (Old Vic) which is not so much a play but a quartet of Samuel Beckett monologues adapted from the author’s, Texts for Nothing, which he wrote in the Fifties and didn’t intend for performance. It’s an enigmatic and demanding 70 minutes which takes us deep into the realm of the subconscious.

Irish actress Lisa Dwan is an excellent interpreter of Beckett – she made her name with a trilogy of his three great novels – Not I, Rockaby, and Footfalls – and she brings a formidable energy and nimble sensitivity to this production, which she co-directed with Joe Murphy. Alone on the stage and starkly exposed, she’s a prisoner and a wanderer. She barks, rages and rambles but has moments of teasing wit and elfin vulnerability.

The evening begins with her closed eye billowing on a silk screen at the front of a stage. Then we hear her breath and as the eye opens, the focus pulls in until we are left with the pupil, a circle of blackness. Images of her swimming down to the deep give way and finally to the live version of her prisoned in Christopher Oran’s design – in a cleft in the rocks or a crack in the boggy peat “down in the hole the centuries have dug”.

She appears to be standing and flying, trapped and cosy, a visual representation of the state between nothingness and something that the words return to over and over again. Later, in four separate sections, we find her standing in a barren landscape of stone, suspended above the stage in a cage, her own judge and party witness and advocate, noting her own state of being, answering her own disembodied voice, the voice of a reason which duly notes her testimony.

Finally in a moment of surprising intimacy, she comes right back to the front of the theatre’s thrust stage and grapples with the questions of being and not being, of a soul lost but in communion with the dead and the living, of a voice trying to be heard.

Although Beckett’s text is dense and elliptical, Dwan offers a searing personal and political vision in what must be regarded as one of the writer’s most original works. The result is an extraordinary journey into the heart of Beckett, unlocking his contemporary relevance to gender, identity and the human condition. It is an invitation to look at ourselves and ask who, or whom, am I?

Lose yourself in a kaleidoscopic maze of words in this one-woman show like no other!

No’s Knife

Playing at the Old Vic until 15 October 2016

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