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 The Theatreguide.London Review

First Love
Arcola Theatre   November-December 2014

A brilliant text brilliantly interpreted and excitingly performed – there is very little about Conor Lovett's solo show that does not inspire superlatives. 

With the aid of director Judy Hegarty Lovett, the actor has transformed Samuel Beckett's early story into a darkly comic monologue so spellbinding that its hour and twenty minutes seem to go by in less than half that length. 

As is his wont, Beckett writes of a minimal human being in minimal circumstances, in this case a man so unaccustomed to human contact that just speaking to us is a novelty that causes him to repeatedly pause in wonder. 

He tells us of his one relationship with a woman – if by 'relationship' you understand that they shared a park bench a few times and he lived in her home for a while in a separate room she was not welcome to enter. 

But of course, out of that kind of minimalism are Beckett lives made up. It will come as little surprise to Beckett veterans that the speaker finds graveyards amenable places to spend his time, that he notes ruefully that 'dust to dust' might more accurately specify muck, and that it is not just alliteration that makes him think of food and fumigating together. 

Lest this sound bleak, I rush to repeat that the monologue is filled with comedy, in both the man's bizarre experiences, his skewed vision and the personality Conor Lovett finds for him. 

Lovett embodies the man so fully, from voice to body language to pacing, that it is worth reminding ourselves that he is working from a narrative text without stage directions, finding his entire characterisation and performance in the words he speaks. 

So when he realises, for example, that such a man would be as unaccustomed to sustained thought as to extended conversation, and has the guy wander off from time to time into a blankness from which he has to stir himself, it rings absolutely true as well as being dramatically alive. 

(It is also very daring – a couple of times Lovett holds a silence so long that you begin to fear the actor has forgotten a line, only to wake the character up again at the last possible moment and thereby demonstrate his complete control over what he's doing.) 

An all-but-bare stage, a single actor and a text – and this is one of the most engrossing, captivating and thoroughly entertaining evenings I've had in a theatre all year.

Gerald Berkowitz

This production of First Love was done at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010. Here's what we said about it then: 

The key to Samuel Beckett monologues is recognising that there's a real human being in there. He may be strange or damaged or even mad, but you have to find him and his voice, or else you may as well be reciting meaningless abstract poetry. Conor Lovett finds the man whose voice speaks Beckett's 1945 short story and presents him to us fully formed even before he says a word. The slight stoop, the sideways stance and the wavering eye contact introduce us to a man for whom human contact is an infrequent and, if not actually painful, at least not always welcome experience. Once he begins to speak and we catch on to thought patterns like being halfway through reminiscence before realising it may not actually have happened, or randomly changing details or names because facts have no monopoly on his concept of reality, we are ready for the tale he has to tell. His love story turns out to involve a woman who suddenly appeared on his favourite park bench. Because she bothered him, he thought about her; because he thought about her he concluded that he must be feeling that thing other people call love. What follows is a minimalist misadventure that is the purest Beckett, with Lovett capturing every nuance, every bizarre laugh and every tiny tragedy, sharing and communicating his absolute understanding of the text. It is easy to do Beckett poorly and get away with it, but the opportunity to see him interpreted this well is too rare to be missed.
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Review - First Love - Arcola Theatre 2014

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