What does it say of Lessness, a short prose penned in 1969 by Samuel Beckett, that its 60 lines were arranged at random, plucked one-by-one from a container? A structure inferred by chance doesn’t suggest the rigour renowned by the writer’s stagecraft, where every detail down to a pause, footfall or breath is finely calculated.
Perhaps it’s because of its incidental make-up that an ashen Olwen Fouéré has confined herself behind a desk next to a metallic lamp, wearing headphones over her ears; she has yielded behind Beckett’s text as opposed to positioning herself alongside, speaking it aloud as if receiving a live transmission from the end of the world: “Ruins true refuge long last towards which so many false time out of mind”.
It’s unsurprising of Fouéré’s TheEmergencyRoom, in co-production with Galway International Arts Festival and Cusack Projects Limited, to follow riverrun, its acclaimed adaptation of Finnegan’s Wake, with another formally challenging piece from the modernist canon. Except, without the frantic energy of Joyce’s text, Lessness exists on a lower range and – as precisely staged and designed by Kellie Hughes, Sarah Jane Shiels and John Crudden – in the extreme simplification of form.
In a restrained and potent turn, Fouéré carefully scans the audience as she relays text that sometimes could be taken as obtuse stage instructions (“Grey sky no cloud no sound no stir earth ash grey sand”), while repetition of phrases offers a quality similar to that of minimalist music.
Curiously, there hangs above her a projection shaped like parchment, an empty page on first impression, but certainly a molecular-shifting white blur onto which the imagery of the text may be abstractly present. One might isolate grains of desert sand and ash, vaporization of dust into cloud, all making a bleak landscape. Meanwhile, the rising drone of Phil Niblock’s music seems to seal the space towards some kind of eventful conclusion.
Instead, Fouéré’s reporting of a “grey little body” making its way across a desolate scene ends with the figure exposed naked, its “little block genitals overrun arse a single block grey crack overrun”. It’s a funny yet severe image, alluding to the intense stripping back of not only content but form.
Despite being without the absurdist drama that drives Beckett’s plays, Lessness is fascinating for being able to stand as a stage performance of pure minimalism. Stare long enough into its white void and you’d sense reality being sucked in, the “endlessness” as Fouéré’s speaker calls it, wherein the refrains “refuge” and “ruins” may be one in the same.
Lessness is playing at An Taibhdhearc as part of the Galway International Arts Festival until 26 July. For more information and tickets, see the Galway International Arts Festival website. Photo by Tristram Kenton.