15 June 2011
""at the Oxford Playhouse." "
A theatre review by Julia Gasper
You won’t be able to go and see Conor Lovett’s one-man performance of First Love because it was on for only one
night. The morose, gloomy, ribald black humour, the emphasis on death and animal existence, even scatology, was too
much for two women in the audience who walked out half-way through, unable to stand it when the protagonist
recalled inscribing his beloved’s name on a cow-pat, which he calls a “heifer-pat”. Perhaps they had hoped to see a
play based on Turgenev’s story “First Love”, and if so they would have been very disappointed. A tramp meets a tart
on a bench near a canal, moves in with her to get a roof over his head and then leaves when she gives birth to a
child as he can’t stand the noise. That’s all there is to it. It’s not great passion. “Either you love or you
don’t,” it concludes abruptly.
Nevertheless this makes an entertaining evening, as Conor Levett’s Irish accent and cunningly varied pace of
delivery beguiles the audience even while addressing them sometimes as “you cunts.” Beckett wants to be
scrupulously honest in reproducing the language of a real tramp on a real bench. If you like you can worry about
the influence of Joyce and Sartre, but more likely you will just laugh at lines such as, “I’ve got no bone to pick
with graveyards…” It is a tremendous challenge for one actor to hold the attention of an audience for an entire
evening, and Conor Lovett who is a veteran Beckett interpreter, is up to it.
There will be many who find Beckett’s view of the world too gross and too degrading, too negative and pessimistic.
It has been defined as post-modernist, post-existentialist miserabilism. The tramp is not one of those who has
found a cause to get engaged in and lend meaning to his life; he has not found a purpose. As a writer, Becket can
hardly be described as “life-affirming”. His graphic portrayal of all the functions of a physical body is gruesome
and often repels. So this is a production strictly for Beckett fans and other people can go to the pub.