Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland – First Love
posted by: Seth Nehil
The sole character in First Love is deeply misanthropic, often scatological, and very, very funny. In his base quest for silence and inactivity, he reaches hallucinatory levels of separation from humankind. Beckett isolates the most animalistic tendencies of a selfish existence – food, sleep, shit – and elevates them to a level of abstraction through repetition, rhythm and persistence. In doing so, he creates a character that is somehow both familiar and grotesque. This character readily admits things we would struggle to hide. He can be at turns charming, irritating, even hideous.
Two nights in a row, I’ve seen works for a solo performer, sans music or lighting changes. It has confirmed the power of words to captivate, to draw on mental images, and to be melodious. Beckett pushes language to its limits, twisting and turning through labyrinthine digressions. With patience and doggedness, we plunge into the earthy thoughts of a character who might normally live below our attention. This character speaks to us from the gutter, perhaps even from the grave.
Conor Lovett’s performance was a feat of memorization and understated delivery. For the actor, this works demands subtle virtuosity, an interpretation that respects the text and doesn’t overload Beckett’s forceful minimalism with extraneous gestures or hammy expressions. While the language can be brutally poetic on its own, Lovett’s subtle smirks, absent stares and charged pauses take on weight and inject humanity into a potentially despicable creature.
The performance I attended was unfortunately marred by a persistent alarm just loud enough to be heard and just quiet enough to occasionally disappear. Running alongside enjoyment of the performance, one couldn’t help wondering “Is it still there? Where is it coming from?” This mystery was quite distracting from a performance that could already be described as demanding. …and it lasted for not just one or two minutes, but at least 45, creeping into the otherwise beautiful silences.