As director Dominic Hill welcomes us to the Tron theatre for this triumphant double bill, the audience cheers midway through his announcement at his mention of the return of live theatre. It’s an absolute joy to be back at the theatre, and the whole audience definitely feels the same way. Tonight’s double bill is just over an hour long – a perfect length to coax post-pandemic audiences back out again.
The healing is well and truly underway for theatre.
First up is Go On by Linda McLean in which the character Jane attempts to train an AI replacement of herself, Jayne (both played by Maureen Beattie). If it all sounds a bit Black Mirror, you’d be right – even more so when the play begins. The two characters talk to each other via a multimedia screen. They are dressed pretty much identically and it’s certainly very surreal to witness. Occasionally, the training took the form of speaking the exact same words at the exact same time, talking about everything like pets, pies and sex to larger emotions like pain and hope. As the play progresses and the narrative structure begins to blur somewhat, it’s not actually apparent which character is teaching who anymore. One thing that really stands out throughout is Beattie’s diction. Everything is crystal clear and she leaves the audience hanging on to every word of her performance. Her timing is also impeccable. While she is interacting with a screen, Beattie’s character walks around the stage, as the character in the pre-recorded film seems to be looking at where her physical character is throughout. It’s genuinely remarkable. Overall, an exciting start and a great companion piece to Krapp’s Last Tape.
After a short break to set the stage, the curtains parted to reveal Niall Buggy sitting at a table on a dark stage for Krapp’s Last Tape. On his 69th birthday, a man listens to a taped monologue that he has made on a previous birthday and has a chance to look back on his life. Some of the enjoyment for around half of this play comes from seeing Buggy’s reactions as he listens to his younger self speak about his life, whether that was with anger, sadness or with a humorous reaction (the word ‘spool’ was used to great comedic effect). With such a simple concept, one may think it was a simple performance, but it was fascinating. For a few minutes at the beginning, Buggy’s character is merely walking around the stage eating a banana, but yet it is captivating. However, there is a tinge of sadness throughout the performance. As he listens to his younger self, there is the constant reminder that they are almost like two different people. Here, Krapp sits as an old man in a dark, lonely room as he listens to a man with many years ahead of him. Buggy does a fantastic job to convey this melancholy.
It’s obvious that the past 18 months have had an impact on the arts as a whole, and these two plays, when looked at through the lens of the pandemic, give one pause for thought. When lockdowns started, many people were alone and all they had were memories of the past or hopes for the future. This pandemic has taught everyone in one way or another what it’s like to feel alone or lonely. Tonight, we came together as a group and celebrated two pieces of art which really encapsulated those feelings. The healing is well and truly underway for theatre.