Samuel Beckett wrote The End in 1946, beginning this powerful, funny short story in English but switching to French part way through. Gare St Lazare Ireland's production of the tale, which takes the form of a solo monologue, beautifully performed by acclaimed Beckett actor Conor Lovett, premiered in 2008 but has all the immediacy and brilliance of a brand new show.
Conor Lovett is at once a humble and commanding presence as our nameless protagonist, a homeless man who has been ejected from the institution that has been caring for him and must now fend for himself with just the clothes on his back and a small sum of money that he will soon be swindled out of. We are pitched straight into his narrative - left to guess in vain at the series of events that led him to this desperate state of affairs.
Lovett's lilting brogue manages to be somehow soothing even when describing some truly grim scenarios. The actor relishes the pauses in Beckett's rich prose and makes the most of the piece's black humour. He's equally physically assured in director Judy Hegarty Lovett's careful yet informal staging. Several times Lovett holds a gesture that illustrates a moment in his story for far longer than you might think necessary or natural. But it works, perfectly summoning the inherent absurdity of the situations the old man describes, such as winching a flower pot up and down to keep it in a diminishing patch of sunlight outside his squalid lodgings.
Our protagonist is an unreliable narrator, leaving us in doubt as to whether the details he recalls are truth or fabrication, products of the 'visions' that come to him as he lives out the last of his life. How long it takes him to meet his end is impossible to tell, so dreamlike is his telling of this story; it could be weeks, months or years that he wanders through town and country after leaving the care home. Lighting designer Simon Bennison's changes of lighting state suggest the passage of time, but so subtly that we're no surer of where we are in time than our protagonist.
The End marks the kick off to Print Room at the Coronet's festival of Beckett's prose in performance. If this show is anything to go by, there are plenty more delights in store.
The End is part of a three-week Beckett Festival running at the Print Room until 5 June.