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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Theatre Festival 2016: First Love

Barry McGovern in Samuel Beckett's 'First Love.' Photo by Pat Redmond


A little hour of near perfection

There’s no denying the special relationship Michael Colgan, The Gate Theatre and Barry McGovern have enjoyed with Samuel Beckett. Indeed, there are many who consider the Gate Theatre’s 2006 production of ‘Waiting for Godot’ with Barry McGovern and the late, great Johnny Murphy as the definitive version of ‘Godot.’ But that was then, and this is now. And now, a decade on, things have changed. Or rather, ripened. Like a great wine that improves with age, the relationship between Colgan, McGovern and Beckett has matured into something even more full bodied, with deeper flavours and subtler hues and textures. They’re small, almost imperceptible qualities, but they distinguish between a really good wine and a vintage. ‘First Love,’ a short story by Samuel Beckett, performed by Barry McGovern and directed by Michael Colgan, is a first class vintage.

Narratively, Beckett’s short story doesn’t give too much away. A man remembers his short lived marriage to a prostitute he met shortly after his father's death. Not a lot there it would seem, but with Beckett it’s often about that which remains when everything is pared back. It’s not nothing. It’s that vital thing, that sublime, stinking, beautiful mass of humanity, alone together, knowing nothing. It’s there in the words, the laughter, the unsettling recognition they generate, and nothing else is needed or necessary.

Set designer Eileen Diss beautifully understands and understates. A door. A window. A bench. All made as ephemeral as a half remembered memory, bathed in warm, soft light by James McConnell’s subtle lighting design. A staging that’s felt more than seen, into which McGovern enters, proceeding with a slowness fit to enflame an elephant. If, as Malcolm Gladwell states in ‘Outliers,’ mastery is achieved after ten thousand hours, McGovern demonstrates he is an unquestioned master many times over when it comes to Beckett, delivering a near impeccable performance. As is director Michael Colgan who, along with McGovern, brings forth textures and flavours you didn’t even know were in there.

Yet we must take exception to one point in Beckett’s darkly comic tale, when he claims the mistake one makes is to speak to people. Speak to everyone. Let everyone know that there’s something a little special about this production. And don’t make the mistake of missing it. Rather sip it, like the vintage Beckett it is, and savour it. For the hour passes quickly and it’s over before you know. Yet first loves always linger long in the memory and hold an intimate place in the heart. As will this little hour of near perfection.

‘First Love’ by Samuel Beckett, produced by The Gate Theatre runs at The O’Reilly Theatre, Belvedere as part of The Dublin Theatre Festival until October 16th

For more information, visit The O’Reilly Theatre or Dublin Theatre Festival

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