Friday, March 17, 2017

Eh Joe at the Gate

                        Michael Colgan's valedictory season of plays by Beckett, Pinter and Friel keeps up the very high standards he helped to initiate and sustain for 33 years. I saw a great version of Pinter's The Dumb Waiter last week with Lorcan Cranitch and Garrett Lombard. This week's offering surpassed that with a virtuouso version of Beckett's Eh Joe. Not knowing the play I was wondering how Gambon was going to get on because, famously, he had retired because he could no longer remember lines. Of course, as I discovered, Eh Joe is ideal for him as there are no lines. He basically just sits there and responds visually (rather than vocally) to a disembodied woman's voice. She is the voice of his conscience reminding him of how badly he has treated various women and what now lies ahead of him. It's classic Beckett in terms of the stripped down language and the bleak intimations: "Then yourself ...That old bonfire ...Years of that stink ...Then the silence". Bracing stuff.   I knew the play was written for television - the first such one he wrote - and that it mainly features the actor's face and attendant reactions. So I was wondering how it would be staged and was thankful I had a seat close to the stage. But I needn't have worried. They filmed his face as he sat on a bed and projected it giantly onto a scrim (transparent cloth) that covered the entire front of the stage. His read covered an area close to half the size of the scrim so even a visually impaired person in the back row could monitor every twitch. And twitches there were aplenty, and tears. Gambon gave it the full rueful, sorrowful, pitiful works. It was only 30 minutes long but that was enough for such sustained bleakness.