4 stars ****
Royal Lyceum Theatre
After the fierce vaudeville comedy and dark poetry of Barry McGovern’s I’ll Go On, the great English actor Peter Egan steps onto the same stage, as part of the same Beckett season, and demonstrates that a softer, more ruminative approach to Beckett’s powerful prose can also pay dividends. In the 1946 short story First Love, a man who lives rough recalls a time in his mid-20’s when – one evening, on a canal-side bench – he met a woman called Lulu, or maybe Anna, with whom he struck up a relationship; only to abandon her and walk away, as she gave birth to his child.
In a sense, First Love is a more clearly purposeful piece of work than most of Beckett’s prose. It offers a searing critical portrait of a young man incapable of intimacy or love; his attitude to Lulu is tainted with a cruel misogynistic disgust. Yet the story blazes with a painful truthfulness about men’s fear of women, along with the inimitable snap of Beckett’s wit, and – sometimes – a stunning bleak lyricism. “I did not know, then, how tender the earth can be, to those who have only her,” says the speaker, of his life on the road. And if Peter Egan sometimes seems slightly uncomfortable with the wicked bite of Beckett’s humour, he captures that lonely lyricism with a force as moving as it is memorable.