Saturday, 6 November 2021

REVIEW: Footfalls & Rockaby at the Jermyn Street Theatre

There are some playwrights who naturally invoke a sharp intake of breath. Samuel Beckett is one such example with a rich canon of work that stretches across stage and screen. A Dubliner who traded the Emerald Isle for Paris, Beckett is the most influential of modernist writers. To reject conventional plotting in favour of deeper analysis might be a big ask for some, but keeping an open mind will pay dividends. The Jermyn Street Theatre has now brought together two of his lesser-known works entitled ‘Footfalls and Rockaby’. Although constrained by a painfully short running time of 40 minutes, it easily does justice to the most singular of writers. With smart direction from Richard Beecham, the production also benefits from the presence of Dame Sian Phillips and Charlotte Emmerson, who deliver wonderfully controlled performances. 

The performance area of the venue looks different from its usual aesthetic lightness. The stage walls are entirely black with a catwalk linked to a broader platform encased by a square metal frame. A solitary rocking chair sits in the middle as white strip lights occasionally illuminate the structure. Both props are used to haunting effect as the performance develops.

In Footfalls, Charlotte Emerson takes the stage as an anonymous, downtrodden woman apparently caring for her elderly mother. She incessantly paces the floor as her mother's voice booms from the darkness; cajoling, teasing and berating her daughter. Unsurprisingly, there is more to the brevity of this tale than meets the eye; but is largely dependent on how one interprets it. The lights dim as Charlotte leaves the stage and Dame Sian Phillips takes to the rocking chair in Rockaby. An elderly woman, drifting in and out of consciousness hears a voice that sounds familiar. The voice betrays a sense of foreboding that something might be coming to an end. Rockaby appears more transparent than Footballs, but sense that Beckett is again subtle in his messaging.

Both stories complement each other to the point it's easy to think the characters are connected. There is certainly common ground between them and were plays written by Beckett in old age. It would therefore seem to be reflective of the sunset years in a person's life. But I am always reluctant to make assumptions about plays with obvious depth. There are smart licks that characterise a great playwright; the use of silence; a gentle repetition of key phrases to heighten the tension. Dame Sian is instrumental to both pieces as she provides the voice integral to the narrative. Charlotte Emerson portrays her character with total conviction and compels emotional investment from the viewer. It becomes a well-paced, symmetrical production that seems to fit the narratives as they are presented. The Jermyn Street Theatre has another show just oozing with class.

Review by Brian Penn

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: E6 | Price of Ticket: £31/£27 concessions
Blog Design by pipdig