It also serves as a lesson in stagecraft. Jon McKenna engages the audience completely for the entirety of the piece (a mere 45 minutes, but you never feel short-changed) and his command of vocal and physical characteristics and energy is a joy to watch. On occasion his gaze connects with you for an uncomfortably long time, but you feel that this is what Beckett would have wanted – his drama doesn’t want to distract or appease you, it wants you to recognise the discomfort of reality.
This is the philosophy that this production, under the direction of Stanley Gontarski, seeks to promote. It is, as the final film states, a response to the commercialisation and middle-class status of recent Beckett productions, returning it to the grass roots from which it stemmed.
The intimacy of the Calder Bookshop Theatre (which has only a handful of seats) provided a strong immediacy and enabled McKenna to connect with members of his audience. He also demonstrated his command of vocal quality, alternating between the mumbles of the voice within the text to loud proclamations.
The use of audiovisual support, such as the provision of Beckett’s play text for Breath (a 25 second piece involving only light and sound, ably provided by David W. Palmer) brought an added dimension to the evening. However it did lead to some confusion on the part of the audience as to when you were supposed to applaud. The videos provided a glimpse into the reasoning behind the performance, but perhaps diminished the sense of a definite ending where you felt applause was richly deserved by a commanding performer.