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  • Chris ORourke

No's Knife

Lisa Dwan in No's Knife. Photo by Manuel Harlan


The Truth, The Way and The Light

Like the biblical Legion she is many, and yet she is only one. One voice of many voices, one question containing many questions. Where would I go if I could go? Who would I be if I could be? What would I say if I had a voice? Who is it saying this is me? In “No’s Knife,” Lisa Dwan’s stunning interpretation of Samuel Beckett’s Texts For Nothing, co-directed with Joe Murphy, life, death and endless opposites converge in this dark night of the soul. Tension is palpable, near unsustainable, as Dwan gives shape, form and expression to Beckett's thirteen short prose pieces from the early fifties. Adapted for the stage and delivered with near unbearable intensity, “No’s Knife” delivers a performance overflowing with existential anxiety, theatrical brilliance and a generous amount of current political relevance.

Divided into four movements, “No’s Knife” cuts deep, through and past the bone, to expose even deeper wounds. Throughout, there’s something almost feral about Dwan as she cries, howls, cackles, screams and whispers words from the bog in which she appears to be buried alive, dangles from a cage overhead, or walks a desolate darkened landscape, like a battlefield, or an otherworldly limbo between heaven and hell, wonderfully evoked by designer Christopher Oram. Beckett's words become shapeshifters delivered with raw, primitive power, as if possessed by the many selves that course through Dwan, channeled into visceral language, ably supported by an exquisite sound design by Mic Pool. Voices may be seeking a story, but life doesn’t need a story, and nor does “No’s Knife.” There’s just the light and the dark, with both rendered wonderfully by Hugh Vanstone and Tim van’t Hof. If, at times, it succumbs to an unbearable density, causing the mind to wander in places, Dwan’s guttural Gollum, speaking in many 'voiceses,' pulls you back always, taking you to a place beyond the thoughts, ideas and counter ideas that inform “No’s Knife” to an experience of some considerable power.

sa Dwan in No's Knife. Photo by Manuel Harlan

While “No’s Knife” may be immersed in death and darkness, feeling, at times, like a breath as long and deep as a death rattle, there’s always light to be found, and a raging against its dying. Present yet alone, vulnerable yet distant, in “No’s Knife” Dwan is the truth, the way and the light, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the begin again. One of Beckett’s bravest and best interpreters, Dwan knows there may be no story to tell, but there’s the act of speech itself, with its tones, inflections, and rhythms giving shape to sounds as it attempts to articulate the inarticulate into words. As she steps out into the audience, Dwan is as much the place light emanates from as that place were the light hits. The light and the dark, and the light in the dark, Dwan is outstanding in what is a poetic and powerful production.

“No’s Knife” a selection of Samuel Beckett's Texts For Nothing, conceived and performed by Lisa Dwan, produced by The Abbey Theatre and Old Vic, runs at The Abbey Theatre until June 17th

For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre

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