The Times

Covering the Spitalfields Festival certainly takes you to some rum old corners of London's East End. Village Underground is a cavern under the railway viaduct in Shoreditch. Enhanced by spooky lighting and the gnarled tree stump of Lucy Wilkinson's designs, it was a fittingly grim place for that peerless actor Alan Howard to recite Old Earth, one of Samuel Beckett's bleakest monologues (and that's saying something).

Emerging from the gloom as a pallid but still querulous tramp, Howard gave ironic voice to Beckett's richly metaphorical text - the cry of a soul desperately longing for escape from a raddled body. Meanwhile, eight singers from Harry Christophers's choir, The Sixteen, also dressed in dusty 1930s clothing, stood in two quartets round the perimeter of the space and interspersed Howard's words with a wordless choral score by Alec Roth. Wordless, yes, but freighted with allusion and evocation. Some of the modal refrains sounded like Irish folk laments, and thus complemented the overlapping Irish voices of the theatre company Jericho that greeted the audience as we arrived. But a semi-quotation of the final song from Schubert's suicidal song-cycle Winterreise suggested a different sort of morbid kinship. Old Earth is a dark show, in every sense, but it was hauntingly staged by Jonathan Holmes.

Alan Howard in Old Earth

Photo by Jamie Archer

Richard Morrison

The Times: June 19 2012

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