The Performance is set in a blazingly hot Australian summer. Three women are watching a performance of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. In the chill of an air-conditioned theatre, with the hills around them on fire, they meditate on their lives, past and present, and the relevance of Beckett’s words.
The action mostly takes place during the course of the play, each chapter dealing with one character. We have Margot the professor, and career academic, trying to ignore the signs that her life is on the verge of radical change. Summer is the representative of modern youth, an acting student racked with worry about not being good enough, or cool enough or radical enough. She is adorned with tattoos, designed and drawn by her girlfriend Alice. Margot is adorned with bruises whose origins she has not yet revealed to anyone, and barely to herself. Ivy, philanthropist and mother of little Eddy, is well-meaning and conscientious but still can be guilty of making insensitive assumptions.
During the course of the play, they respond to Winny’s plight and reflect on what Beckett might mean by having his actor on stage buried up to her neck, the contents of her hand-bag her only props. She seems to echo all their concerns
With the sun blazing so much fiercer down…Shall I myself not melt perhaps in the end, or burn…
She expresses doubt
And mourns her stuckness
Something must move, in the world, I can’t any more.
A couple of sections of the book, set during intermission, take the form of short plays, I’m not really sure why.
The writing in this book has echoes of other Australian writers; Fiona McGregor has a glorious tattooed heroine, and Charlotte Wood a wonderful scruffy academic, Amanda Lohrey a terrifying bushfire in Eclipse. They all seemed more convincing than the characters in this book.
Somehow it didn’t convince me that these characters all arrived at some kind of resolution or insight in the course of this play.
For me, Beckett’s words were the star of the show