Dublin Theatre Festival 2018: Company
Discourse in the Dark
I think therefore I am. But am I the listener or the speaker in my own head? Merging vivid, earthy prose with abstract philosophical reflections, Sarah Jane Scaife’s staging of Samuel Beckett’s novel “Company” owes more than a passing nod to the introspective Descartes. Questioning self, God, existence, purpose, all from the inside of its head, “Company” can feel as if it isn’t actually devising for company, but merely looking to indulge in some existential distraction. For like a self-fulfilling prophecy, “Company” establishes from the outset where it’s going to go. If the journey proves to be long and arduous at times, there are some enchanting stops along its dark and predictable way. And its travelled in the impeccable company of a mesmerising Raymond Keane.
In “Company we’re firmly in the company of Beckett the novelist rather than Beckett the dramatist. Not that Beckett’s novels or stories don't make for good adaptations, but some, like First Love, fare far better than others. Indeed, Scaife’s clever use of projected text to accentuate key ideas and Beckett’s wordplay emphasises text over an understated theatricality, which often serves as text’s poor relation. Roman Paska’s sculptured puppet might illustrate key moments of text beautifully, courtesy of Keane’s delicate and sensitive articulations, yet too often it visually suggests a child’s cadaver. Around which a philosophical Keane lectures in monologue on the existential dark, the ontological dark, the psychological and personal dark. Lighting by Stephen Dodd ranges from the sublime to the curious. Beautifully accentuating Keane’s supple physical articulations, or cleverly reducing him to a smear in the dark, proves profoundly effective. At other moments it looks lax and unfocused. Yet Keane is never less than an understated revelation. With his powerful, soft spoken delivery, coupled with his exquisitely articulated physicality, Keane delights with painstaking brilliance.
With its voice-overs, projections, sometimes superb lighting, and a stand-out performance from Keane, “Company” has moments of pure bliss. In between, there’s moments of unbearable weight, as if lying on your back in the dark just waiting and listening. Like a devoted parent who doesn’t see how overbearing their own child can be, or their own tendency to overindulge it, Scaife can spoil her textual child a little too much. Enough to ensure that if “Company” delights close relatives and extended family, others may not be so patient. Yet one suspects Scaife knows this. The lower the order of mental activity the higher the chance of company. “Company,” it seems, can be very selective of the company it wants keeps.
“Company” by Samuel Beckett, designed and directed by Sarah Jane Scaife, runs at the Project Arts Centre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2018 until October 7.