Tag Archives: Niall Buggy

"Beckett Triple Bill" at the Jermyn Street Theatre

It’s easy to see why this programme of short plays by Samuel Beckett is already a sell-out hit. A superb cast and direction from none other than Trevor Nunn make it a very special treat. The chance to see a famous piece – and two that deserve to be better known – makes it perfect for Beckett fans and newbies. Check out the theatre’s gala performance on the 30 January if you’re flush, or its 5@5 day tickets if you’re youthful, and here’s hoping for a transfer!

First up, the most famous piece, Krapp’s Last Tape is presented is with taut precision. As its titular hero listens to a recording he made in the past, the idea that we become very different people during the course of our lives is palpable. James Hayes takes the role and gives a performance of remarkable variety – not a nuance of Krapp’s interaction with his past voice is missed. It really is theatrical perfection.

Niall Buggy at the Jermyn Street Theatre credit Robert Workman
Niall Buggy

For me, the big thrill comes next with Eh Joe, which has Niall Buggy listening to another recording, this time an imagined voice from his past. Buggy gives a tremendously focused performance – he doesn’t say a word – but his character disintegrates as his memories haunt him. In a nod to its origin as a piece for television, his face is filmed, adding to a sense of paranoia. The accusing ghost from his past is a voiceover performed by Lisa Dwan. Reminding him of affairs and failings, it becomes truly terrifying. While Joe tries “throttling the dead in his head” he also needs them – when the voices end so will his life – the past defines us and the only escape is death.

Niall Buggy and David Threlfall at the Jermyn Street Theatre credit Robert Workman
Niall Buggy and David Threlfall

It might be a bit of a relief to end the programme on a lighter note. While The Old Tune continues the themes of memory and old age the tone is very different. Buggy makes another appearance, joined by David Threlfall, as two old acquaintances reminisce. Or at least try to… Beckett mixes up stories and dates as the two become confused to surprisingly gentle comic effect. A melancholy is still prevalent, and both performers effectively maintain this.

It’s not in curating the selection that makes this a great offering from Nunn; there’s no overstating connections between the plays and the direction shows a discipline and precision that makes the most of the brevity of each. Working with some long-standing contributors and clearly revelling in the intimacy of the venue, the approach to all three matches Beckett’s own confidence and vision for them.

Until 8 February 2020


Photos by Robert Workman

“Penelope” at the Hampstead Theatre

Ever wondered what Penelope’s suitors got up to during Odysseus’ absence? We know they were swiftly dispatched on the traveller’s return, punished for making a mess of the house and forcing his wife into all those pointless hours over the loom. But Enda Walsh’s Penelope takes a deeper look at these men in a startlingly novel play that reimagines Homer’s world.

To add tension, those hoping to step into Odysseus’ conjugal sandals know he is about to return and how he will punish them – the Gods have delivered a barbecue they will be roasted on. Penelope’s beaus have decamped to a drained swimming pool from where they serenade her via CCTV.

In a series of brave performances the cast declare their love and Walsh investigates the limits of their language. Ageing lothario Dunne fancies himself as a poet, but Denis Conway’s spirited performance has his speech degenerate into anger. The elderly Fitz (Niall Buggy) flirts with philosophy. His speech is moving, but only shows how empty words can be.

A third attempt is the unluckiest of all. Karl Shiels’s Quinn performs a manic mime act with impressive comedic prowess but it’s the last straw for his rival Burns (Aaron Monaghan) – he may look like “an emaciated kidney after a long day’s filtering”, but grasping that love can exist even in this strange place makes the lies they are all telling intolerable.

It’s part of Walsh’s point that none of these men are likeable. Faced with these serenades anyone would take up the shuttle. The open question – are they irredeemable? Unfortunately, with little empathy towards them, no matter how unusual Penelope is, the play struggles to engage you.

It’s easy to see why so many admire Walsh. He is a writer never short of ideas with an exciting grasp of rhythm. His bold voice is sometimes obscene and scatological, mostly for comedic effect, but there’s intelligence here so fierce it can be overwhelming. Having been so successful on tour, this London run of Penelope at Hampstead allows the capital’s audiences a valuable chance to see an award-winning play.

Until 15 March 2011


Photo by Robert Day

Written 17 February 2011