Review: Men Like Us at Smock Alley Theatre

The New Year brings a flurry of resolutions and optimism. It may seem counterintuitive then to begin my 2015 resolution to ‘write more reviews’ with a review of Beckett. The writer, known for his dark, depressive albeit humorous writing littered with bleak modernism and unrelenting helpings of ‘the world is shit along with everyone in it’, could perhaps not be seen as the most appropriate writer to introduce to my New Year’s cloud of optimism.

MouthonFireAu contraire.

Mouth on Fire’s choice of three short Beckett plays all worked off the common themes of end of life reflectivity and judgement of one’s own worth. Delving into the dark thoughts of those close to death, one realises the futility of self judgement and the inevitability of failure and death.

Mouth on Fire’s piece presented three of Beckett’s shorter plays: Matalang (Catastrophe as gaeilge) followed by Rough for Theatre II and finally, The End. Each explores the ‘success’ and ‘place’ of the individual. What do they symbolise? Were they a ‘great’ person or where do they belong in our world? The conversations about self worth and achievement are endless. Tying back into my New Year hopefulness, the importance of self validation rings true. Ultimately we will all end up on our death bed with regrets, but what does it achieve to dwell on these while we’re still alive and kicking, or are these regrets worthy of regret at all?

A rare translation of Beckett’s works into the Irish language, Matalang, presented first with English surtitles, explores the treatment of an individual being prepared to symbolise sadness and suffering but ultimately rebelling in a wonderfully hopeful final moment. Its placement before Rough for Theatre II facilitated a beautiful transition using the character of the Protagonist who then becomes Croker. However I’m now beginning to wonder would it have been more hopeful to end the collection with this piece?

The End is beautifully performed by Marcus Lamb, showing enormous humility and simple optimism but ultimately sadness and loneliness which left me feeling quite sad. His dark humour was entertaining but the final scene didn’t give me the same hope I felt with that lift of the head at the close of Matalang.

The entire piece is wonderfully produced with arresting layered and looped live compositions by Kim V Porcelli and predictably clever use of space in Smock Alley.

On a side note, as awareness of Smock Alley develops, more and more theatre makers are understanding the seemingly limitless potential this space has for emotive lighting, clever staging and naturally great acoustics of that high ceiling. Definitely a space to watch.

Men Like Us has finished its successful run at Smock Alley Theatre, but keep an eye on Mouth on Fire’s website for upcoming productions.

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