First Love by Samuel Beckett

Last night I went to see the Arcola Theatre’s latest production – Samuel Beckett’s First Love. The play was written to be read, but here it is produced as a play – one actor and sparse scenery – and is a truly wonderful piece of theatre. The actor, Conor Lovett, has been nominated for several awards and in 2009 won the Best Actor award for the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards. One can see why Lovett has become one of the foremost performers of Beckett – he does an awful lot with very little. Beckett, like many Irish writers (Behan and Wilde spring to mind) had a consummate command of the English language. To perform a whole play, as the one character and without an interval, is a real feat. At no time does the attention wander, despite the paucity of the setting here. One becomes entirely drawn into the story that unfolds, although it must be said that there are times when there has to be a slight suspension of disbelief (although this is with the play’s text rather than the actor), and the occasions on which Lovett pauses lengthily at first made me wonder if he had forgotten where he was going with his script. However, it became evident that this was part of the play’s richness.

Like Conor Lovett, the Director, Judy Hegarty Lovett, has an enviable string of credits. If this play (a Gare St. Lazare Ireland production) is anything to go by, I will look out for future plays directed by her. Again, the Arcola Theatre are to be congratulated on bringing such a remarkable production to East London. It won a Stage Award for Acting Excellence at the Edinburgh Festival this year and to be able to see such a production, so reasonably priced and so close to home is a credit to the Arcola team.

Maria Way

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