How It Is (Part 2)

How It Is (Part 2) being Part 2 of a three-part novel of which Part 1 comes before it and Part 3 follows it after which there is no more being a novel it is not a play yet here at the Coronet Theatre Notting Hill it is a play because it is performed on stage and in the auditorium by two actors who are actors who recite and perform the novel which has neither capitalisation nor punctuation but flows in short paragraphs which could be seen as stanzas but lack sufficient definition and are introduced by and interspersed with gamelan music.

A truly remarkable production and a rare opportunity to see one of Beckett's most complex and mysterious works

You get the idea? With no interval and a running time of over two and half hours, Samuel Beckett’s last full novel provides ample material in which to become immersed in this style of writing and to wonder how on earth actors learn and remember the lines and how to divide up the text.

Originally published in French as Comment c'est in 1961 and in English in 1964,

the novel is divided into three parts in the form of a monologue recited by an unnamed narrator as he crawls around in a landscape of mud and darkness with only a sack, some tins and a tin opener, and recounts a journey towards a fellow traveller, Pim, repeating his life above as he heard it, uttered by another voice inside him. All does not go well, however, and in part two ‘with Pim’, the narrator becomes increasingly angry and violent until he is abandoned by Pim. This leaves him again in mud-dark motionless solitude, speculating about the existence of others like him and Pim while seeking a simple explanation for it all.

It has been suggested that Beckett may have been influenced directly or otherwise by both Leopardi, who wrote of the struggle of form to emerge from formlessness in a world of mud, and Dante who created the image of souls ingesting mud in the Stygian marsh of the Inferno and the character of Belacqua who is referenced in the work.

The imagery of a primordial pond is heightened in this production by the playing of the music composed by Mel Mercier and played by fourteen musicians who form the Irish Gamelan Orchestra with Cathal Roche and Claudia Schwab. The array of glistening brass instruments occupy the vast the floor of the theatre with the audience in the round; the layout in itself being a work of art. It forms a stunning spectacle upon entering the auditorium and the sounds they create set the tone for a meditative, eerie yet rousing experience, created by blending sounds from gongs, metallaphones, drums a wooden flute and a two-stringed fiddle arranged in two tonal families. This mood is further enhanced by the sublte lighting design of Simon Bennison operated by lighting assistant Hanan Sheedy.

All of this forms part of Director/Designer Judy Hegarty Lovett’s vision for this work, which is a co-production between The Coronet Theatre and The Everyman, Cork and produced by Gare St Lazare Ireland. The first part of the trilogy was performed before lockdown but this second part was delayed as a result of that and now appears two years later.

Actor Conor Lovett has worked for over 20 years with her and they have an outstanding reputation as explorers and presenters of Beckett’s works. Stephen Dillane joins Lovett on stage and between them they share the text in performances that use all the available space from the staircases and very back of the theatre to wanderings through the orchestra. Their performances are confident, with words powerfully projected and combined with a degree of physicality that harks back to the primeval age. For the most part they operate in isolation in what amounts to lengthy rambling monologues, complicated by phrases that recur and that could easily take an actor to the wrong part of the script. The play is a huge challenge for all involved, not least the audience, but it is one that is deeply rewarding.

How It Is (Part 2) is a truly remarkable production and a rare opportunity to see one of Beckett's most complex and mysterious works should not be missed.

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The Blurb

Irish theatre company Gare St Lazare, with an outstanding international reputation as premier exponents of Beckett’s work, presents an extraordinary combination of sound and vision with How It Is (Part 2); a stand-alone piece within Beckett’s last full-length three-part prose work with gamelan ensemble.

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