Review: Beckett: Feck It! (Queen of Puddings Music Theatre and Canadian Stage)

Toronto’s CanStage and Queen of Puddings Music Theatre explore Samuel Beckett’s absurdist plays using Irish classical music in Feck It!

One of the first things you get to see in Beckett: Feck It! is a very phallic-looking device, followed by an actor presenting his bum and scrotum. This isn’t obscene – the actor is wearing underwear – but it is very funny. The combination of lowbrow humour with rather highbrow existentialist concepts is one of the hallmarks of Absurdist Theatre. The humour is necessary comic relief because the philosophy expressed would be too depressing, and the rote repetition of the stage action would be insufferable, without it.

I love this stuff. I love playing with structure and form and language and I love exposing the meaninglessness of the trappings of human society. But it’s not to all tastes.

Beckett: Feck It! is a collection of short plays by famed Irish absurdist Samuel Beckett presented with contemporary classical music from Irish composers inspired by his work. I’m well-versed in Beckett’s other plays, but I have little classical music knowledge, so I brought a companion who is educated in classical music. She and I were both impressed by the soprano, Shannon Mercer, who does all the singing in the show. She says the composers are obviously talented though she herself prefers more traditional forms of classical music.

For example, one piece begins with beautiful traditional-type music à la Schubert (Beckett’s favourite composer) but then jarring interruptions are introduced and they increase in frequency. This suits Beckett’s style and themes: the juxtaposition of ugly sounds interjected into pretty music using the same instrument (Mercer’s voice) shows how people use artifice to make the harsh realities of existence more palatable. It also mimics how Beckett wrote his dialogue as if it were music, using rhythm, repetition and variation to create meaning as much as – if not more than – the actual words of the text.

While many people who prefer a realistic narrative will probably not appreciate much of this show, I cannot imagine that anyone would not be moved by at least one musical number, a traditional Irish love song. My companion was particularly impressed by Mercer’s transition from contemporary-classical to a very authentic Gaelic folk style.

The staging for this show is very inventive. Most of the stage is at a heavily raked angle toward the audience, which would seem to render that entire area unusable. But it is used, and to good comic effect in most cases.

My favourite scene was three talking heads (literally) who relate a story and then tell the exact same story again. For me, the second delivery has variations in tempo and pitch that changed the meaning and kept it interesting (and I loved the staging). For my companion it was simply repetitive. The point here is: Absurdism is to a particular taste. If you already like it, you will like this show. If you know it’s not your cup of tea, Beckett: Feck It! will not convince you otherwise. But if you’re not sure, come see this show to try it out. If it turns out that it’s not to your taste you will probably still enjoy a lot of the music.

 Details:
– Beckett: Feck It! is playing at the The Berkeley Street Theatre locationof Canadian Stage at 26 Berkeley Street.
– Performances run to February 25th, 2012
– Tickets are $22 to $49
– Tickets are available at 416.368.3110 or purchase online at www.canadianstage.com

Picture of Tom Rooney and Michal Grzejszczak by John Lauener