Review: How It Is: part 2 (Coronet Theatre)

The middle portion of Samuel Beckett’s final prose text comes to Notting Hill exactly two years after it was originally planned, with the Irish Gamelan Orchestra taking to the stage with Conor Lovett and Stephen Dillane.

How It Is Part 2 both stands alone as a piece you can experience without knowledge of the other parts, or as a continuation of Part 1 and taster for Part 3. It is not a play, but a mammoth exercise in memorising prose.

Being Beckett, this is a text which has no characters and no punctuation. Interpretations may and do vary (see this clip from the 1960s of the actor Nicol Williamson performing part of How It Is as an example).

Production shot from How It Is Part 2

Here, Dillane is the urbane Englishman, resigned to his fate and physically dexterous. Lovett is the nervous Irishman, more urgent, more static. They confront yet soothe each other; rarely together but never apart.

Both men roam across the space, which has seating on both sides and even an alcove providing an amusing and entirely appropriate interlude.

The design is inventive, the direction thoughtful (both by Judy Hegarty Lovett), the music (by Mel Mercier) carefully crafted, the lighting (by Simon Bennison) evokes a mysterious landscape.

Irish Gamelan Orchestra in How It Is Part 2

The use of the Coronet’s space is superb – on stairs, crouching, lying down, standing quiet, the two voices (who may both be Pim, or neither) reach us from all corners while the orchestra crouch by their unfamiliar chimes and wailing strings.

The audience seating is unreserved, but I would recommend the upper portion of the stalls to get a good view of all proceedings. Be aware, too, that most of the proceedings take place in half-light with occasional spotlights.

The orchestra provide discordant sounds which hint at the other-world in which the two narrators find themselves, face-down in the mud, in snatches of song and silence, in bursts of violence that transcend traditional communication.

Stephen Dillane in How It Is Part 2

Each word is weighted in importance in this challenging and rewarding piece, both absurd and profound, earthy and spiritual. It demands a lot from performer and observer, but reaps rich rewards if this is your kind of theatre.

Me? I’d fight to protect the right for cultural gems of this type to reach their audience. I only wish I had caught the 6 hour digital version in the Dublin Theatre Festival.

You can watch How It Is Part 2 until 7 May at the Coronet Theatre (staged and co-produced with Gare St Lazare Ireland – for tickets go here.


Image credits: Clare Keogh/Mayumi Hirata