(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 3/17.)
Gate Theatre, Dublin
In Beckett’s short television play Eh, Joe, here ingeniously and still faithfully transposed to the stage, the great actor Michael Gambon gives the performance of a lifetime, in more senses than one. First staged in 2006, for the Beckett Centenary, and now revived for the Gate’s Beckett Friel Pinter Festival, it asks Gambon to portray an entire personal history in just 30 minutes, and to do so wordlessly, while film-maker Atom Egoyan seizes on the actor’s long experience of stage and screen, artfully combining both mediums.
To see Gambon, sitting glum and inert on the edge of a stingy bed, you could be forgiven for thinking he is doing nothing at all, as a voice needles him into remembrance of things past. But to see his face, held steady by a stealthily advancing camera and projected on to a ghostly scrim at the front of the stage, is to see a performance of almost microscopic detail. The film actor knows that, on screen, the smallest gesture can carry a huge effect. The theatre actor understands that sometimes presence is enough. Here Gambon does both.
Penelope Wilton, who supplies the calmly interrogating voice, gives a performance that is harder to observe but no less nuanced, playing an ex-partner who has been absorbed into “that penny-farthing hell you call a mind”. There is nowhere to hide: we first see Gambon, a vulnerable figure in pyjamas, checking under the bed for threats.
Photo: Irish Times