REVIEW: Not I, Footfalls, Rockaby

The State Theatre Centre Studio Underground

Saturday, February 14, 2015

There’s another Samuel Beckett show on the bill for Perth International Arts Festival this year, and it is, quite literally, a mouthful. Performer Lisa Dwan, director Walter Asmus and the ghosts of Beckett and his muse Billie Whitelaw join together in the ether to create a stunning piece of theatre with Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby. This triptych of three short pieces puts language in the spotlight, and Beckett’s penchant for creating the uncanny through his words and stage directions is beautifully displayed.



Not I

Not I is an incredibly physically and mentally challenging piece for the actress who undertakes it; she is strapped to the back of a wall, her face from the nose down painted black, and she must deliver an insane stream-of-consciousness monologue at breakneck speed through a hole in this wall that’s just big enough for her mouth. From the audience’s perspective, all we see is a mouth suspended approximately eight feet in the air, surrounded by total blackness. This is slightly perceptually disorienting as you watch this miniscule gibbering pinpoint in the black void.

The monologue is written from the perspective of an old woman who is recalling certain significant events or memories; she has been mostly mute all her life with exception of these verbal outburst, one of which we are witnessing. Beckett directs the actress to deliver the words at the speed of thought; not only does Dwan’s mouth seem to produce sounds even faster than that, it does so with the most musical range of tonalities from a high-pitched squeal to a guttural grunt. We are left breathless and in awe of Dwan, Beckett and this suspended mouth that plays tricks on our eyes.


After a short pause enabling Dwan to dismount from her perch and remove the black makeup covering her face, she reemerges from stage left in a dim shaft of light, dressed in a long, gauzy white dress, her face now painted an ashen white. She is like the “lady in white” that haunts the collective unconscious of so many cultures around the world. She paces across a wooden section of floor, nine Footfalls to be exact, and she begins a halting conversation with the disembodied voice of her mother (Dwan’s own voiceover). Each section is slightly different in content and perspective, but always proceeds with Dwan pacing back and forth, and always a conversation between a mother and daughter, with the exception of the last section, in which the bell tolls but the actress never reappears. It’s never totally clear whether either the daughter (May) or the mother is alive or dead — again Beckett leaves narrative matters behind in favour of an experience, a feeling, an atmosphere. There is something ritualistic or meditative about the repetitive, circular nature of this piece and the one that directly follows it, Rockaby.

In this final piece of the trilogy, Dwan is now seated in a rocking chair, dressed in a black Victorian gown; she begins to rock, slowly, back and forth, back and forth, while a voiceover of herself reading the inner monologue of this character describes what we understand to be her lonely, dying thoughts. She sits alone in front of an imagined window, wishing to see another soul, the rocking chair ever swinging like the pendulum of a clock that is counting down her last hours. Occasionally it comes to a gentle halt, and Dwan asks out loud for “more!” in a feeble, child-like voice, a child-like demand for more time, more movement from the rocker. Eventually, she’s rocked off to the final, neverending sleep. Rockaby is a lullaby for the aged and the alone. It’s a solemn end to a riveting work of performance art.