15th Nov 2012 10:19am | By Louise Kingsley
Originally written for radio, Samuel Beckett’s bleakly comic 1957 drama has apparently never previously been staged.
So it was hardly surprising that, with a cast headed by the all too rarely seen Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon, tickets for the initial run at the tiny Jermyn Street theatre sold out as soon as they went on sale.
Good news, then, that there’s now a chance to catch this septuagenarian duo and a fine supporting cast at the larger but still sufficiently intimate Arts.
Microphones hang from the ceiling, the red light goes on and, from chairs lined up on either side of the stage, scripts in hand and dressed in fifties clothing, the actors come forward to “record” their parts to the accompaniment of a vivid soundtrack of rural noises and passing steam trains.
Setting off to meet her husband from the station when he returns from work, Eileen Atkins’ Mrs Rooney, alert but with the dragging feet of the very old, encounters various locals on her short journey.
On the way back, it’s just her and Gambon’s blind Rooney, each step difficult and confusing in a metaphor for the closing stages of life itself.
Both are immensely watchable – Gambon reluctant to tell his wife why his train was delayed, his (admittedly rather fluctuating) Irish lilt exploding into angry frustration with his diminishing powers, and Atkins quirkily observant, her face a mournful map of the past – in Trevor Nunn’s 75 minute production.
Great Newport Street, WC2H 7JB
Tube | Leicester Square
until 24th November
Photo: Tristram Kenton