Metafour, by Samuel Beckett | Directed by Erica J Brennan

Glorious Thing Theatre Company | Pact Theatre, Erskineville, Sydney | Until 15 August

Samuel Beckett’s plays are not what we expect of traditional theatre. Rather they dismiss conventional plot and time references, choosing to focus instead on the human condition. These four brief plays that constitute Metafour are a must for Beckett fans or the uninitiated.

Quad 1 and Quad 2 begins the program and involves four hooded figures moving within quadrants of the stage. Each person wears a different colour and appears to have a nominated pathway. From a narrative perspective there is neither plot nor character nor dialogue, instead it is almost a meditation on precision. The centre is the hub and avoiding collision via mathematical choreography is imperative.

Victor Kalka’s simple design in this play and the others that follow is deceptively effective and in Come and Go shines in costume design. Three women sit on a bench wearing greyish overcoats, whilst the rest of their attire is coloured for each character: violet, red and yellow, although these colours are dulled and faded, suggesting a passing of time.

The women become party to a secret and the sparse dialogue clearly establishes a conspiratorial rhythm whilst creating an ethereal and nostalgic tone. We are left to speculate and reflect and to construct in our imagination their past, present and future.

We also do this in Rockaby, where a woman dressed in a black evening gown sits in a rocking chair isolated and alone. The motion of the rocking chair creates a pace and rhythm for the pieces as well as providing an eerie atmosphere. There is a recorded voice that recounts events from her life and Thomas Brennan’s evocative sound design combines with Beckett’s spare prose to conjure up her possible back-story with the repeated line of “time she stopped” becoming a mantra.

Erica J Brennan’s astute direction ensures that Beckett’s staging demands are followed faithfully and allows the audience exposure to his extremely complex ideas but in such a sparse and simple form.

The final play of the evening, Catastrophe, is dedicated to Czech activist and playwright Vaclav Havel, who when Beckett wrote the play, was in prison serving a four-year sentence for ‘subversive activities’.

The premise is that a theatre director and his female assistant are completing a dramatic presentation which involves a mute man standing on a podium. The unmoving man makes no move, until finally the lighting technician renders the piece theatrical and the statue responds. Alex Torney provides a detailed lighting design throughout this and the other three plays providing us with an acute awareness of signals and signs.

These four pieces showcase Beckett’s theatrical genius to maximum effect. The ensemble cast of Glorious Thing Theatre Company assume their roles with impressive professional precision.

Beckett is not for everyone, but this one-hour presentation offers so much to reflect on and consider, that it is certainly an hour well spent. Thumbs Up!