3 stars ***
Royal Lyceum Theatre
ON A BLASTED heath, or on a rain-soaked beach at Ostend, the old and ageing must always acknowledge, at some point, that their useful and sought-after lives are coming to an end. Thomas Bernhard’s 1976 play Minetti – almost a monologue, but with peripheral cast and chorus – examines this late-life crisis through the character of a 69-year-old actor, named for a real-life star of German theatre and film, who arrives at an Ostend hotel on a stormy New Year’s Eve, for a supposed meeting with an artistic director who wants to revive his career by casting him as King Lear.
The actor’s life gently mirrors the story of Lear, with early success as young artistic director followed – after a rash creative decision to “turn his back on the classics” – by failure, exile, obscurity and loss; and so as the evening wears on, he rambles and repeats himself and waits, while the artistic director, like a latterday Godot, fails to arrive.
It’s difficult to avoid the feeling that Bernhard’s text places an exaggerated emphasis on the life of the artist as a metaphor for life in general; when Minetti asks a beautiful girl in the hotel bar why she is listening to him at all, the audience are probably asking themselves the same question. It’s fascinating, though, to watch director Tom Cairns wrap this slim 100-minute text in a production full of rich 1970’s detail and gorgeous visual effects. And the show is made eloquent by a series of fine performances, not only from Peter Eyre as a defiant Minetti, but from Sian Thomas and Victoria Pollack as his sharply-sketched lady listeners, and from an ensemble of 15 young extras who surge through the hotel lobby celebrating the New Year, and conjuring up the vibrant, careless river of life that Minetti now watches passing by, from his own bleak shoreline between life and death.