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Review: Play & That Time

I arrived at the Burton Taylor Studio yesterday evening with a mind-set of curiosity and, quite honestly, scepticism. For Samuel Beckett’s minimalist short plays, Play and That Time are ambitious; ambitious because, in order to succeed, they rely on a combination of absolute perfection – immaculate lighting and line deliverance, and simultaneously the daringness to individualise themselves, erring from the rigorous prescripts that Beckett demands. There really is no room for mistake. And in short, it suffices to say that Alannah Jones has done more than succeed – she has nailed it.

Play’s structure is fugal: it repeats itself, unravelling twice the details of an “unexceptional” affair through the stock characters of husband, wife and mistress, whose heads protrude absurdly from urns. As an inquisitorial spotlight flits from one to the other, they recount fragmentary outbursts of their own experiences, seemingly unaware of each other. At points darkly comical, Jones’ production chooses to enforce the paradox of absence and presence, life and death. She brings out subtle dialogues between speakers and spotlight, and the slight changes made when the play repeats itself.

Alexandra Greenfield’s performance was particularly enthralling; she took advantage of the minute details afforded to facial expression and pitch, affecting a perfect delivery speed which occasionally the other two actors narrowly missed. However, Play’s strength came from the exact tightness in which each responded to the spotlight, and the balance of voices when all three spoke in chorus, achieving Beckett’s tight structure – working in effect, like a piece of music.

The transition between plays was, like the whole 45 minutes, immaculately neat. That Time is a slower, more reflective piece of drama, as a solitary actor responds to alternating off-stage reminiscences that deliver three different stages of his life. The choice to position these voices behind curtains rather than recorded voice-overs worked very well, maintaining the levels of engagement required for Play previously. While potentially confusing to someone who doesn’t know the play, using two female voices widened it to different interpretations, while ensuring continuity between the two performances.

Jones’ triumph was in her unusual decision to show these two plays together, naturally distinguishing her own production through the comparisons they invite when performed back-to-back. Overall, the evening was exactly what it had promised: “theatre stripped to its bare, bleached out bones”. These intense, chilling performances are a far throw from the pleasantness of Trinity term’s Shakespeare in the Garden, and yet at 45 minutes, it is a short, exciting evening of breath-taking drama.

 

Play & That Time will be on at the BT Studio until Saturday 13th June, performing at 9.30pm.