the lexicon

a writing portfolio by Alexandra Savvides

Burnt Piano

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Samuel Beckett certainly cast a long shadow. In Burnt Piano, one of Ensemble Theatre’s productions in its fiftieth year, one woman struggles with her own personal grief and guilt through an unhealthy adoration of the great playwright, writes Alexandra Savvides.

The scene is set in Paris, in 1989. Karen Idlewild (Dee Smart) believes she was born under the star sign of Beckett’s Godot. From her birthday coinciding with the day Waiting for Godot premiered, to the names of her parents, Karen is convinced she has an uncanny connection with the playwright, reinforced even more since the death of her eldest son. Her author-father Pete (Michael Ross), long-suffering one would imagine, sits around and listens to Karen recite her journal and her thoughts about Beckett into a dictaphone. Karen’s son Jonah (Nat Jones/Nick Virgona) is living with the burden of guilt about his late brother.

The narrative of Burnt Piano relies on the lives of the Idlewild family and the revered playwright interweaving. Much to the chagrin of Pete, Karen continually forces her son to make a sort of pilgrimage to Beckett (Don Reid). Living in self-imposed isolation from adoring fans, Beckett and his wife Suzanne (Zika Nester) encounter Jonah as he is sent on a mission by his mother to deliver a letter.

The conflict between Karen and Pete provides much of the humour in the play. Even though Karen claims her father’s output was not as intellectual as Beckett’s, it seems that she is fundamentally jealous of his ability to write when she cannot even document her own feelings.

Imagined conversations with the great playwright himself only compound Karen’s delusions. Their actual meeting at the end of the play seems likely to hinge on the old adage of ‘never meet your idols’, until Beckett’s silence allows Karen to realise that what she needs to help her deal with her grief is something she has had all along.

Justin Fleming’s text is full of witty one-liners and poignant moments, even if they are obscured by the over-theatricality of some of the performances. The production also suffers from being slightly too long. As is often the case, the momentum is lost after the interval and it takes a while to rebuild the dynamic between the characters, particularly Karen and Pete.

Despite this, there are some touching moments during the play when the direction and characterisation come into their own. Nick Virgona’s performance as Jonah deserves special mention. The innocence that he brings to the role is incredibly moving, especially during his dialogues with Beckett. Don Reid’s portrayal of the playwright is sympathetic with the benevolent character that Fleming’s text aims to portray; in the end, Beckett was only human after all.



Written by lexstatic

March 31, 2008 at 2:41 pm

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