Every so often one comes across a show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that genuinely excites the imagination. Roughs (for Radio) is such a show. Comprising a live version of two of Samuel Beckett’s incredible radio plays presented back to back, Rough for Radio I and II, it demonstrates that Beckett’s work is as exciting now as it always has been.
Beckett is well known for being adamant that his radio plays should never be staged, and it is thus very rare that permission is given to companies to present them in a theatre. Monkfish Theatre Company circumvent the problem in a very simple, yet incredibly effective manner: the audience are blind-folded before they are allowed into the auditorium.
Simple—yes—but the experience is much, much more exhilarating than might be imagined: certainly a much more complex experience than, for example, simply listening to a recording. To begin with, this is an immersive, acousmatic experience—that is to say, we cannot see the sound sources—and because of this, our other senses become very hightened.
Naturally, sound is the most important sense here, and not only are we aware of the actors words, their movements, the music, and various sound effects (for example, an un-tuned radio), we are also aware of the general noise of the venue (rather like in Cage’s 4’ 33”): the minutiae of everyday sounds. Furthermore, unlike when delivered over a simple loudspeaker, these versions of Rough are presented immersively in 3-dimensions: sound happens all around us.
Other senses, too, are intensified. We notice the smell of the venue and even that of the actors if they are near by, feel the vibrations of the room, the swish of air as a performer comes close to, and even notice our own touch, such as our hand on our chair or on our knees. As a consequence, we are very present within the performance—part of it—focussing the experience in a satisfying manner.
The blindfolds themselves are also symbolic, particularly in Rough for Radio II, where our proximity makes us complicit in the abuse of Fox, yet our blindfolds allow us to see no evil; we turn a collective blind eye and allow the interrogation to continue.
The production is superb and it is clearly a very committed piece of work. This is a unique chance to “see” something very singular and powerful, something that will go straight from your ears directly to your imagination.