The theatre is full. Two ushers stand in front of the empty stage. The chattering stops, and the lights go out. Two men come on stage: Khalifa Natour plays A, a depressed blind violinist, and Marcello Magni is B, an angry disabled man in a broken wheelchair. B sees the advantages of them both living together and tempts A with the corned beef and potatoes he cooks. A relates how he lost "his woman", who made him crawl on all fours and left him when he stood up: "I have always been unhappy." "Why don't you let yourself die?" B asks. "I am not unhappy enough," A responds. We see ourselves in what follows: violent, vulnerable and unable to recognise and therefore satisfy our many human needs.
This is the first of five Samuel Beckett pieces directed by Peter Brook in collaboration with Marie-Hélène Estienne. Kathryn Hunter performs Rockaby. Tiny and dressed in black, she personifies the fragility of existence, coupled with a quest for meaning. She sits on a chair, looking for another living soul. "Time to stop sitting in this chair; must go down to mother's rocking chair." Down she goes, eyes piercingly searching.
In Act without Words, two men wearing only shirts and underpants deposit clothes on to the floor before climbing into plastic bags. In the morning, a pointer descends and pokes a bag. Its occupant steps out, grunting and moaning as he puts his trousers on back to front; he takes a carrot from his pocket, tastes it, spits it out and puts it back. Moaning and heaving, he drags the other bag along. At night, he undresses, panics and cannot find his trouser zip; he is relieved to find it at the back. He kneels to pray before climbing miserably back into the bag. The second man leaps happily out of his bag; he does some exercises, dresses, cleans his teeth, combs his hair, enjoys his carrot and skips along, happily dragging the other bag. He undresses at the end of the day, exercises, cleans his teeth and leaps back into his bag.
In Come and Go, three old women sit on a bench, each pair whispering secrets, childlike, about the third. Their facial expressions say it all. We laughed a lot, identifying.
Like the Greeks, Beckett believed that tragedy and comedy go together, helping us to know ourselves. Theatre was his ideal medium, using the magic of human contact to deliver his words. These three actors would have delighted Beckett. A splendid theatrical event.
To 13 Sept (020-7922 2922; www.youngvic.org)
Barbara Withers, Freelance writer, Hampton Hill, Middlesex