Footfalls and Rockaby ★★★★★ Jermyn Street Theatre | November 3 - 20, 2021


Samuel Beckett, who wrote these short plays, Footfalls & Rockaby, was a master of attempting to penetrate the impenetrable. Footfalls shows us a woman in her forties, May, played by Charlotte Emmerson. She is an ethereal presence, as she slowly paces back and forth across the stage – nine steps each way. Her heels click with a mesmeric and chilling relentlessness. We hear the recorded voice of her unseen mother, Dame Siân Phillips, who, it seems is slowly dying whilst May is caring for her. In Rockaby Phillips, dressed in a black gown, takes her seat on a rocking chair which begins to rock of its own volition, almost as if it were death holding her in its embrace. She remains still throughout and we once again hear her recorded voice, gently reciting memories and expressions of her own loneliness as she slowly fades away. Every now and then she murmurs "more" but the recitation continues until the inevitable end. These plays are described by director, Richard Beecham, as dramatic poems and defy explanation. We are told that we are seeing timeless evocations of some of the bleakest aspects of the human condition. Placing these two short pieces together only amounts to forty minutes' playing time, but it is a significant forty minutes which will particularly resonate with anyone whose life has been touched by Alzheimer's. Siân Phillips' soulful voice, together with the powerfully chilling images of the pacing woman and the rocking chair, will endure long after leaving the theatre.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by D.S.J.
Photo by Steve Gregson.

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