Some people pace up and down, others rock back and forth. There is an opportunity to see both movements performed with considerable style in the Beckett double bill of Footfalls & Rockaby at the Jermyn Street Theatre and it only takes forty minutes.
A rare oportunity to see two hypnotic performances
The stunning simplicity of Simon Kenny’s set is breathtaking for those of us into minimalist design.White strip lighting delineates a cube, containing the rocking chair, and the walkway that leads up to it. Everything else is black. He, like director Richard Beecham, is assisted or even bound, by the meticulous instructions Becket gives for every aspect of the production of these plays. Minor changes exist but the harmony of design and costume by Kenny, lighting by Ben Omerod and sound by Adrienne Quartly stands out in creating the soulful, mysterious and haunting setting for these two poetic works.
When directing Footfalls, Beckett commented that it was “chamber music; it’s got to be perfect”. Charlotte Emmerson clearly embraces that injunction in her meticulous performance as May. It’s all about timing. A bell announces each of the otherwise seamless four parts and then with metronomic precision the measured walking begins, each step heard clearly in a crisp meeting of the hard surface and the heel of the shoe. With arms folded as though embracing herself she looks up and addresses her dying, or even dead mother and the haunting voice of Siân Phillips is heard in response. The dialogue is often vague or obscure with meaning implied rather than stated, with much owed to the psychology of his day.
In a delicate passing, Phillips enters the stage as Emmerson exits through the same space and establishes herself in the rocking chair for the next play, which demands similar precision. She hears her recorded voice relate episodes from her own life and that of her dead mother, that without expression she is clearly reflecting upon. The clarity and intonation of Phillips’ words filled with eerie nostalgia are a joy to hear and her focussed look into space a study in discipline.
Footfalls & Rockaby is a rare oportunity to see two hypnotic performances in seldom-performed works by one of the greatest dramatists of the twentieth century.