First Night: Presenting the pre-restaurant play: Footfalls, Garrick Theatre

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The Independent Online
THIS WAS truly theatre for the 30-minute culture, with 10 minutes to spare. Alternatively, it was theatre for the unquenchable cultural appetite. See a play, have a meal, then catch a movie.

The West End last night staged a play short enough to encourage you to risk parking on a double yellow line outside the theatre.

The award-winning team of actress Fiona Shaw and director Deborah Warner combined their talents for Samuel Beckett's Footfalls, a piece weighing in at just under 20 minutes.

Although the shortest production in the West End last night, by more than two hours, it is not the shortest play ever written. That honour is ascribed to Beckett's Breath, which has no dialogue.

Last night's play consisted of five pages of text - half a page of that being stage directions and a chart indicating the number and direction of footsteps - in which May, played with mesmerising intensity by Fiona Shaw, engages in dialogue with her mother, played by Susan Engel.

Because of its brevity, the play is being staged twice nightly for its week-long run. And with most of the pre-production costs being subsidised by the Parisian theatre Maison de la Couture Bobigny, all tickets cost just pounds 4.

The Garrick may have set a trend for pre-meal theatre, but even before Beckett's prose poem began, there was another first for West End audiences as the director had to wander among the stalls telling people to stand up and turn round for the first half (9 minutes 30 seconds) in which Miss Shaw perched precariously on a board at the front of the dress circle.

The audience left on a bemused note too. With Miss Engel's part a disembodied voice, it fell to Miss Shaw to take the curtain call alone, but she did not appear. A truly Beckettesque evening.

(Photograph omitted)

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