3 stars ***
Summerhall (Venue 26)

IN THE old Demonstration Room at Summerhall, two men sit opposite one another, with a chess board between them.  Standing nearby are a young man and a young woman, in suit and cocktail dress; on the wall, there is a projected image of the chess board, changing as the game proceeds.  The two players, so it seems, are the composer John Cage and the writer Samuel Beckett, caught in Paris some time in the mid-20th century; the chess game is the one played in Beckett’s novel Murphy between Murphy and a man called Endon, each move precisely replicated.

The core of Victoria Miguel’s 80-minute play, though, is not the chess game, or the intermittent conversation between the two players, or even the continuous accompanying music by Cage and three collaborators, created in response to a series of chess moves; but the narration delivered by the young man, which seeks to explain – often with immense complexity – the nexus of ideas about God, meaning and chance, random incidence and the act of creation, that brought together some of the great thinkers and artists of the age of modernism.  And in Miguel’s own production – featuring two fine if underused performances from Paul Birchard as Cage and Alan Scott-Douglas as Beckett – Philip Kingscott delivers this narration in such a gabbling, self-effacing style that the material simply becomes impossible to absorb; or even, after a while, to hear, given the fierce competing demands for attention – narrative, dialogue, music – that take what is potentially a fascinating play about the impulse of modernism, and gradually reduce it, as Cage hints in his final line, to something of a theatrical car-crash.

Joyce McMillan
Until 9 August 
p. 297



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