Beckett looms large in Noose, a strong new play written by Anthony Maskell and directed by Josh Dolphin. A stepladder dominates the stage, which is bare apart from piles of books, a large tarpaulin and a wheelie bin. One of Jacques’ first actions is to climb the ladder and prepare a noose, which we learn is the latest hanging attempt of many. Endgame and Waiting for Godot ticked off in the first five minutes.
Maskell’s sparse and often humorous dialogue channels Beckett as much as the visual references. The first scene deftly lays out the delicate balance of power between Jacques and Seraphine, played by Ali Porteous and Misha Pinnington. Their relationship, which is never explicitly defined, has many unwritten rules. There are things they are not allowed to say to each other and things they say that will be sure to set the other off. Ali Porteous captures the neuroticism of his character, shuttling between irritability and vulnerability. Misha Pinnington as Seraphine, who only looks at Jacques once when she is speaking to him in the entire play, is a disturbing stage presence that morphs into psychotic coldness by the end. However, neither of these characters really develops, which reflects the Beckettian sense of stagnation but is a little disappointing.
The blind pilgrim’s arrival, played with sibylline intensity by Josh Dolphin, provides the main event of the play. He tells them he is on a pilgrimage in search of God. However, he seems to have an alarming insight into their characters, disturbing Jacques and making advances towards Seraphine, as well as asking difficult questions about the disappearance of the boy who guides him (it just so happens there’s a body matching the description in Jacques and Seraphine’s wheelie bin). Jacques asks the pilgrim why he has come so often that we start to doubt his explanation but an adequate alternative is not provided. All we know is that the pilgrim provides an interruption of whatever Jacques and Seraphine were doing before.
The lighting, designed by James Stokes, is used to good effect. Particularly chilling is the scene in the dark between the pilgrim and Jacques. The setting of the play is left vague between the (potentially) period costumes, the accents and the set. It could be anywhere, anytime.
Unfortunately, Noose ends rather abruptly, where an extra scene would have been appropriate. Although part of the style of the play is to leave things unsaid, as it stands there are too many riddles. Who are Seraphine and Jacques? Why is there a body in their wheelie bin? Why do they cart around a radio like a baby? By leaving all these questions unanswered, these details themselves start to seem arbitrary. Yet my dissatisfaction at the ending of the play is also a testament to the strength of the rest; Noose left me wanting more.