Roughs (for Radio)

Beckett’s dramatic works are disorientating at the best of times. His characters are subjected to all manner of stresses, disfigurements, and distortions, which are then experienced vicariously by the spectator. The Monkfish Theatre company give two of Beckett’s radio scripts that peculiar Beckettian treatment, in an interesting take on two of the Irishman’s lesser known works.

Dedicated Beckettians will appreciate the faithfulness of the production to Beckett’s intentions and the odd splashes of black humour.

Greeted by a line of tape-mouthed volunteers on entering the antechamber, spectators are each blindfolded and led through to their seats in darkness. The effect of this loss of vision plus the discordant, droning cello music which sweeps around the room is profoundly disconcerting.

The first of the two pieces, Rough for Radio I, feels almost like an anti-climax following the ceremonial entrance. The piece features two speakers, He and She, engaged in a tense dialogue, before the eventual departure of She. Beckett’s script dictates that the piece be performed with his trademark emotionlessness (“Too much colour!” was his famous admonishment to the players he directed) and, in this production, it seems like the actors are between a rock and a hard place. The script is written to be recorded for radio, where the intimacy of the voices can be captured without allowances having to be made for volume and projection. In this performance, in front of a live audience, articulation and flashes of emotion have to be added (blindfolds or no), with the result being a loss in the uncanny nature of the interaction. It is well acted, it has to be said, but the tone is shifted from its intention as a sort of otherworldly encounter to one that sounds like a pair of acquaintances rambling a bit.

Roughs for Radio II is a more complete script and lends itself more to the blindfold treatment. This short piece features four characters, Animator, Stenographer, the bestial Fox, and the mute Dick. The dynamic between the Animator and the Stenographer is arresting, playing out the pattern of power politics (a theme so common in Beckett) with admirable nuance. The most haunting aspect however is Fox, a tortured, barely human creature, at the mercy of the other three. The loss of vision really exacerbates the horror at Fox’s anguish, with the sound of this demented creature conjuring up images of incomprehensible grotesqueness.

A script written exclusively for this type of immersive theatre might well enhance this type of production. As it is, dedicated Beckettians will appreciate the faithfulness of the production to Beckett’s intentions and the odd splashes of black humour. And even if you’re not familiar with his work, any admirer of experimental theatre would do well to make the time for this performance. 

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The Blurb

'I have come... to listen.' A rare chance to experience two of Samuel Beckett’s most unsettling comedies, live. Voices emerge from the darkness to bribe, cajole and torture each other. They laugh. They cry. They do the paperwork. This haunting double-bill remained virtually unheard, until last year's historic Cambridge run. Following the success of these critically acclaimed readings, Beckett’s Roughs now make their Edinburgh premiere. You won’t see it coming. 'Gut-wrenchingly human ... immensely effective' **** ( 'Wonderfully creepy ... if you like Beckett, you'll like Roughs’ **** ( 'Vivid and affecting' 9/10 (TCS).