Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago, Dunedin

22/03/2024 - 23/03/2024

Dunedin Fringe Festival 2024

Production Details

By Samuel Beckett
Directors Richard Huber and Stuart Young
Lighting and stage design by Marty Roberts


“A voice comes to one in the dark. Imagine.”

An old man craves only stillness and silence at last but he is helplessly stirred by figments of his own making and beset by memories, which may or may not be his own. By turns entertained, confused, exasperated and alarmed, he struggles to locate – but, just as often, fiercely resists locating – a sense of his precise self within all his ‘fabling’.

The text of Company has a kind of atomic energy. The language is precise and bare. The images pack a punch. This production takes its cue from that. Lean forward a little, let the ears do the work, light and sound and performance just enough to focus the words. This examination of one lying on his back in the dark is poignant, absurdly humorous, thoughtful and always resonant.

Company was written towards the end of Samuel Beckett’s life and is considered a modern classic. A novella, it has been performed as a monologue many times since its publication.

This is its first production in New Zealand.

An afterburner production.

Allen Hall Theatre, Dunedin Fringe Festival, March 22 7pm and March 23 2pm and 7pm. $15 and $25.
Bookings @

Performed by Simon O'Connor
Lighting and stage design by Marty Roberts
Sound design by Kerian Varaine

Theatre , Solo ,

90 to 100 minutes

O’Connor instantly has us in thrall

Review by Terry MacTavish 24th Mar 2024

Alone. Company. Two words of such tremendous significance. Is the first so fearful we will, if necessary, invent the second? A man lies on his back in the dark, alone. In his need for some emotional connection, for companionship, he imagines he is not alone. A voice speaks, initially addressing him in the 2nd person, ‘You are on your back in the dark’. Metaphysical speculation begins to merge with some of the stories of the man’s life, but are they memories, or fantasies?

Company was written by Samuel Beckett not as a play, but as a short story, a novella. It has been seen as more autobiographical than any of his works, though as he insists, our memories of the past are unreliable at best. Short stories have made effective monologues, of course, it is not uncommon for them to be re-interpreted as theatre. 

Highly accomplished scholar-directors Richard Huber and Stuart Young are surely to be trusted with the writing of the man who altered the direction of 20th century theatre. Young’s programme notes are exceedingly profound, and Huber directed a robust Waiting for Godot that I reviewed back in 2011. But a narrative like this one? A meditation on what it is to be solitary? Who, after all, is this creature, and why in the dark – insomniac, imprisoned, ill, dying? Dead? 

The more impossible a performance concept is, the more likely it is that afterburner will seize on it. Over the years they have brought us one mind-expanding show after another, intentionally leaving the audience with more questions than answers. So how will this innovative team tackle Company?

The script is so utterly stark, that surely a staged performance will need to bring in all the bells and whistles. Interesting set, elaborate costumes, marionettes, lively movement, great vocal variety, cool lighting, maybe striking projections? One production in the USA even had the audience lying in the dark being gently stroked.

Ha ha, this is afterburner. We know their methods by now. Force the audience’s imagination to do the mahi, steal their props, strip them bare, scrape away anything extraneous, painfully if need be. Minimize, minimize. 

To ensure our attention is focused on the language and imagery, afterburner’s stage-lighting wizard, Martyn Roberts, has designed deliberately low, mysterious lighting, in which the sole actor’s outline may be dimly seen, but not his face. Kerian Varaine has designed the sound, similarly unobtrusive. As Huber has noted, when we are in the dark and our body is still, our inner self awakens. 

So, on a bare stage, in near-dark, can any actor make this ambiguous monologue work as theatre? Memorising the meandering script alone must be a most prodigious feat. Well, if anyone can pull it off, it is Simon O’Connor. He has held us spellbound while he watched paint dry. Quite literally, not a word of a lie, the play was even called Watching Paint Dry. From King Lear in the 1960s through Fortune productions like Bent, Othello, Gifted, Krapp’s Last Tape, to recent experimental works like The Toy Factory Fire, his presence on stage imbues any production with his own special alchemy. 

Company proves no exception, for O’Connor instantly has us in thrall. He is brilliant. Some in the audience might prefer to see his facial expressions, but I have a secret advantage – after viewing so much of his work I can picture exactly how he must look on any line. O’Connor’s masterly vocal delivery certainly requires no histrionics, his voice is perfectly modulated, a joy to listen to, even when, as Beckett often demands, he speaks in a flat monotone. There is room, however, for a sardonic humour to creep through the soft tones, and we are surprised into sporadic laughter.

His hand movements in the subdued light are as precise and elegant as those of an impeccably controlled praying mantis, but the image that lingers is the actor as a child crawling – hand, knee, hover, hand – the very reality of that first tentative struggle.

The darkness, the quiet, draw us into an intense concentration which is akin to meditation. I would like to record that I philosophise profoundly, but in fact I am irresistibly drawn to the snippets of what is presumably Beckett’s own life story, and now told mostly in the 3rd person – the child who tried nobly to rehouse a hedgehog, the boy who watched his father reading, hopefully chuckling whenever his father did, the young man ‘on the bloom of adulthood’ waiting in the summerhouse for his beloved, ‘a light step for a woman her size’. 

O’Connor’s beguiling delivery brings this possible history to life, while he simultaneously speculates on whether a long-dead rat would make better company than a live fly who mistakes him for dead.

Once again, with courage and sensitivity, afterburner has created for us an experience rather than a performance. The rehearsal period must have been quite revelatory. Directors Richard Huber and Stuart Young delicately nudge us to enter a strange world and take from it what we will. Existentialist soul-searching, amused acceptance of the faultiness of memory, or simply a rueful examination of our own pitiful need for company. 

Company. Alone. Which of these two words will be the last spoken??


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