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Fragmented Thoughts on Fragments

I saw some brilliant theatre this week. And it had nothing to do with the US elections.

On Thursday night, I got to see Peter Brook's production of Fragments, a collection of five very short pieces by Samuel Beckett.

I'm a big fan of Beckett. Some say he's too depressing, but I think those people just don't look hard enough for the humor (dark as it may be) that underlies his work. As a good friend of mine once said, "you have to find the laughs, otherwise you just want to cut out your stomach with jagged glass.

Gee, it's not unlike the US elections at all.

Anyway, the production is stellar, and it definitely digs below the Beckett's bleakness to unearth his sense of humor. It always amazes me how captivating simplicity can be, especially when it's acted as well as well as it is in Fragments.

Watching Kathryn Hunter sit on chair and deliver the eight-minute monologue that is Rockaby was spellbinding. The original text calls for most of her thoughts to be recorded and played over while the actress sits and reflects, but Brook's staging is a wonderful deviation. And to watch Ms Hunter at work, her expressive face conveying all the weariness and repetitiveness of an old woman's life with some kind of hopeful spark of longing (even for the release of death) in spite of it all ... well, she's just heartbreaking.

During that piece, I was reminded of the best theatre I've seen in ages, which you might remember was Mark O’Rowe's Terminus up in Edinburgh last month. Again, you've got these amazing words, which if you look at them on paper you might be tempted to say "erm, what the fuck?" and then you watch these performers bring them to life with such seeming simplicity. All the complexities of life with so many emotional (but never hysterical) layers. It's just beautiful.

The other pieces were also a delight. I'm no fan of slapstick (or clowns, scary or otherwise), but Act Without Words II has made me rethink the art form. Wonderfully performed by Marcello Magni (a co-founder of the estimable Complicite) and Khalifa Natour, it's a very funny study in how two people can be given the same situation and make either the best or the worst of it.

I guess that's one of Beckett's major themes: life can be shit, you either enjoy it or you don't. Make a choice.

But you do have a choice.

Here's a shot of the three performers together, in the night's final piece, Come and Go.

The Independent's photo gallery from the evening is here.

An interesting interview with Peter Brook is here.

If you're anywhere near here, go see the show. It's only 55 minutes out of your life (not including travel time to and from the venue), but I reckon it will stick with you for quite a while.

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