'How It Is (One)' review or 'Smokey silence and a shimmering other world.'

'How It Is (One)', Samuel Beckett
Print Room, 7 May 2018
Written for Time Out

Picture an ocean of words, as dense as you can imagine, with little pockets of calm and beauty. That’s a Beckett novel. They’re demanding, stunning, elusive little buggers –and none more so than ‘How It Is’, one of Beckett’s most enigmatic works. Renowned Beckett-boffs, of the Irish theatre company Gare St Lazare, have spent three years adapting the novel for the stage. It’s a Sisyphean theatrical challenge, which they’ve pulled off with intellectual chops and theatrical flair – but you’ll have to brace yourself for an acutely intense, nigh-on spiritual night at the theatre. 
This is Beckett - and Beckett at his most obscure – so there’s precious little plot. A man lies paralysed in mud and recalls flashes from his life in the ‘light above’. At one point a chap named ‘Pim’ joins, and then leaves. The cycle is repeated endlessly, looping spookily between life and death. Is he trapped in a grave, a nightmare, a coma, the afterlife, or maybe Beckett’s mind? Your guess is as good as mine.
In the novel, Beckett’s narration is wilfully obscure. Director and designer Judy HegartyLovett has attempted to replicate this narrative ambiguity on stage – and then some. The Print Room has been reconfigured so that the audience sits on the stage and the actors roam about the theatre. The empty seats in the stall glow a pale yellow. Smoke swirls and Mel Mercier’s eerie soundscape envelopes us all. Wind howls, silence sings and ghosts begin to lurk around the edges of Beckett’s words and Lovett’s performance space.
Conor Lovett and Stephen Dillane perform with awesome rigour. Lovett’s delivery is mellifluous and wistful; Dillane’s is wilfully monotonous and still. Both are utterly mesmerising. The two speak over each other’s monologues as they quietly stalk the theatre, emerging in the circle seats above, the lighting desk or hovering in the wings. It all begins to feel very creepy: as if the theatre seats might suddenly judder towards us or Lovett might tear at his face, and pull his skin clean off. 
It isn’t an easy watch. Sometimes the sheer volume of words becomes too much to bear, an almost physical pain. But stick this one out and you’ll experience moments of pure wonder, when all sense of time and space disappears and you enter a strange other world, with Beckett whispering cool truths in your ear.