A little of Samuel Beckett, the Irish poet, playwright and theatrical philosopher, goes a long way. There's only a little of him here in these three very short monologues, performed by the same actress, that runs less than an hour all in, but it casts dark shadows in every sense.
Hot on the heels of the recent London opening of a new production of Happy Days at the Young Vic, this triple bill has made a bold leap to a short West End run after a sell-out January run at the Royal Court. There's clearly an audience to lap up these dim, somewhat distant dramatic shards of frequently incoherent speech – it felt busier in the Duchess than it appeared would be the case when I walked past the Aldwych en route to the theatre, where Andrew Lloyd Webber's Stephen Ward is playing. Who would have thought that Beckett would appear to outsell Lloyd Webber? Not I.
And Not I, of course, is the title of the first and boldest of the monologues, in which only the actress's constantly chattering mouth is illuminated. As performed by Lisa Dwan at seemingly faster than the speed of light, since the words tumble out of her more quickly than we can even discern her lips moving, it is impossible to catch more than intermittent words. A mere mouth, too, is really hard to focus on, floating in the dark void that the theatre is plunged into (even the emergency lighting is extinguished, so those who are afraid of the dark should steer clear).
Footfalls, in which a woman relentlessly paces up and down a narrow strip of stage, is hardly brighter. James Farncombe's lighting keeps her mostly in the dark, too, as she converses with her unseen (but not unheard) dying mother.
Finally Rockaby finds a woman rhythmically rocking to sleep – or possibly death – as she listens to a recorded voice talking, only intervening occasionally to call for 'more', so that the voice resumes.
Less is sometimes more, of course, in the theatre, but this feels more like an art installation than a fully engaging night in the theatre.