REVIEW: First Love (Auckland Arts Festival)

First Love Samuel Beckett
Love and Benches.

Beckett on Love [by Sharu Delilkan]

First Love Samuel Beckett
Love and Benches.

We were greeted by instrumental music that immediately made me reminisce with fondness about my first love. 

The stark stage with two different sized benches and the cold blue lighting contrasted the emotive background music.

It’s not long before Conor Lovett enters stage right dressed in a chequered suit, hoodie and worn reddish-brown leather shoes.  He loses no time telling us about his life which includes details of his separation and listlessness toward family.

Originally written in French in 1946 and translated into English by Samuel Beckett, First Love is a fabulous play on words that keeps the audience both mesmerised and in stitches throughout the 70-minute production.The language is dense and superb expressing depression and neglect with a razor sharp wit that creeps up on the audience almost as subtlety as the “love affair” he describes.

There’s no doubt that the traditional love story of First Love is indeed “turned on its head” as stated in the programme.

Lovett’s acting, under the astute direction of Judy Hegarty-Lovett, is masterful veering from likeable to disagreeable, disgusting to witty, through a staccato delivery where the pauses are as poignant as the words themselves.

Despite the lack of props, the use of buttons, pockets, hesitations, ‘excuse me’s and coughs combine beautifully to draw the audience into the degenerate and bleak outlook of the narrator.

Lovett’s ability to speak at the rate of knots, typical of an Irishman on a tirade, is both charming and endearing despite his foul mouth and irreverent descriptions of his first “love” and mankind in general.

Memorable lines in the play include ‘carving the letters of her name into a dried heifer pat’ and ‘my banana tastes sweeter when sitting on a tomb’.

Occasionally stuttering, over explaining, understating and rambling, the dialogue is directed straight and without compromise, giving the audience no wiggle room.  

I love this production and as always with Beckett it was the language that made it a delightful experience, which was enhanced by Lovett’s impeccable interpretation of the piece.

I can’t help feeling:  “If this is how falling in love for the first time is, then I’m glad I don’t have to experience that again.”

Despite the humour this is far from a happy story – explaining the worst of human nature through the most exhilarating of human experiences i.e. love.

I left the theatre with a heavy heart.  But at least it made me think deeply, at least it made me squirm in my seat…I was sad, happy and confused in equal measures.  Very much like a first love.

First Love plays as part of the Auckland Arts Festival at the Herald Theatre March 16th, 17th and 19th.

 More information at the Auckland Arts Festival Website.

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