Gare St Lazare
Arcola Theatre, Dalston
Irish theatre company Gare St Lazare have spent the past couple of decades touring the world with the works of Samuel Beckett and now they have taken the playwright’s short story First Love to London.
Acclaimed thespian Conor Lovett plays a man who falls on hard luck and develops a relationship with a prostitute. Lovett brings this whole story to life in the form of an intriguing 80 minute monologue.
The production’s programme points out that Beckett’s short story was never intended for the stage, and with this comes bigger appreciation of Lovett’s control of his stage, and the fact those 80 minutes pass ever so swiftly.
Despite the ramblings of an unlikeable character, Lovett never loses his grip on his audience’s attention, and without stage directions from the author himself stamps his own mark on the story with his own improvisation of movement and pause.
On-stage props come in the form of two almost floating benches, to remind his character of his homeless state, yet he largely ignores them and instead mimes the bench to where he has been forced to reside.
Lengthy pauses gives the heart a flutter as you await the next speedy aside, especially when Lovett marvels in any hubbub coming from the audience, waiting and reacting for those to settle down so he can continue with his one-on-one conversation with you.
The play features all of about three characters. The narrator, his father and his love interest Lulu, who he later renames Anna as he feels it more appropriate.
His softly spoken dialect perfectly paradoxes the vulgar, coarse content of his story starting off with his unbalanced views on life and death in a cemetery – ashes to ashes is just muck – and from there we see that this character will not beat about the bush.
Following his father’s death, the protagonist is made homeless and settles on a bench. There he meets a woman whose presence irritates him, but who when he is apart he cannot stop thinking about her.
For this reason, he concludes that he must love her, and from that we are taken on the most unorthodox of love stories and settling down, with Lovett first miming his declaration by engraving Lulu’s name in cow faeces. Traditional passion this is not.
Lovett uses the many Beckett style asides, within asides, to perfect reason the inner workings of his complex character and his association with love or just settling for his own selfish gains.
The play has many a humorous moment to lighten the darkness of this comedy of sorts, and although the subject matter, and its instrument, comes across as quite awkward at times, Lovett manages to grip all attention on himself in such a masterful way.
There’s no real intensity in his speech, that comes in the uncomfortable silences, so without an ‘in-your-face’ method it becomes all the more impressive that this man has complete control over us with a continuous pattern of garrulous insights into the inner workings of his mind.
This man’s tale of first love ain’t puppy love, or conventional nervousness, it’s dark, seedy and gratuitous, making it the most fascinating dark romantic comedy you’ll see live all year.
The play runs until December 13, and tickets can be purchased here: https://www.arcolatheatre.com/production/arcola/first-love.