Gaitkrash: Not I, by Samuel Beckett

The Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

Gaitkrash Theatre Company’s staging of Samuel Beckett’s play Not I was directed by Ger Fitzgibbon and performed by Regina Crowley. The play takes the form of a short monologue delivered at breakneck speed. Its length is dependant on how fast the actress can read, and usually clocks in at around fourteen minutes. Obviously a play of such brevity throws up difficulties in staging. Gaitkrash used a framing device, embedding the play within a longer choreographed happening. This has the dual function of lengthening the event’s duration and heightening the audience’s receptivity for what is a very short intense play.
To my mind this production had an affinity with the current art practice of staging experiential events. Tino Sehgal is the best-known proponent of this practice. The visitors to the events are prompted to partake in some kind of performed encounter with an actor/interpreter. The visitor is not offered up a completed artwork for contemplation but instead participates in the manifestation of the work.

Regina Crowley at the rehearsal of Not I. Photography by Ger Fitzgibbon.
Regina Crowley at the rehearsal of Not I. Photography by Ger Fitzgibbon.

Arriving in the foyer of the Crawford Galley there was a small crowd waiting, flanked by a similar number of black-clad ushers. An announcement was made that each usher would be paired with an audience member. The ushers then led us upstairs to the first floor painting room, where Gaitkrash member and sound artist Mick O’ Shea sat behind his desk of strange instruments conjuring up a discordant sound scape of bleeps and wails. There was an air of expectation as people waited for the actor to arrive. I noticed after a few minutes that people were being led from the room. My usher asked if I felt comfortable wearing a blindfold; I responded affirmatively and was led from the space. It is peculiar to be thrown so suddenly into such close physical proximity with a stranger. This is the component of the staging that demands trust from the audience and a willingness to give up control.

I was gently guided into a lift, which was filled with the sounds of bird song. A lift is an everyday space, which always evokes an uncanny feeling in me, the closeness to strangers and the slicing movement through the innards of buildings. Being unable to see led me to have an acute awareness of sound. I know the physical space of the Crawford Gallery well, but I felt disoriented and the distance I had travelled did not seem to correspond to the space I thought I knew. Placing one foot tentatively in front of the other I suddenly found the ground changed and I seemed to be walking on grass. I was asked to sit down on a bench and I concentrated on the sounds in the space as I waited. There was a soundscape of whispering and water; it seemed to combine both electronic and natural elements. I could feel other people’s presence in the space. After approximately five minutes we were instructed to remove our eye masks. We were in a small dark room with the only light focused on the mouth of the performer. The words spewed from The Mouth in an almost unbroken stream. ‘Into this world tiny little thing’. Repetition – ‘all the time the buzzing’ – there is no real beginning or end to the piece – it seems like it could loop back on itself over and over, forever.
The Beckett estate is notorious for its strict control over the performance of his work; Gaitkrash remained faithful to his text while employing a unique approach to its staging. Their production encouraged attentiveness to perception, to our body in the world, bracketing out a space for a more intimate engagement with Not I.