Worstward Ho!

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

 

Worstward Ho typifies Beckett’s later work: pared down to the extreme, almost to a semantic dead end, but woven together so that a faint pattern of hope emerges from the nothingness. 

Together with Company and Ill seen Ill said, it was collected in the volume Nohow On in 1989, essentially the last major work of Beckett, followed only by Stirrings Still.

PRESS COVERAGE

The Irish Times, April 8, 2005

by Fintan O’Toole

 

….The second possibility is pretty much realized in the recitation of Worstward Ho by the American actor Lee Delong, under Hegarty Lovett’s direction. Her recital moves in step with the text, in which a lone voice tries and fails to bring some haunting shades into vivid focus.

 

The failure, of course, and the human capacity to persist with it, is what interests Beckett: “try again, fail again, fail better.” Delong fails beautifully.

 

At first her approach is so unexpected that it seems wrong. Clad in a distractingly odd ensemble that mixes traditional Japanese costume with a purple fleece, she seems too solid, to insistent a presence. Her delivery, on the other hand, goes against expectation in a different way. The obvious way to recite the complex, often coldly algebraic text of Worstward Ho is to emphasize its rhythmic repetitions, and to use them as a drum beat that keeps the words on the march.

 

Delong, to the contrary, goes for a warm, almost chatty tone, creating a cadence that is close to conversational. She also disrupts the minimalism of the piece. She gestures with her eyes and hands, moves about the playing area with considerable freedom, and occasionally smiles at us as if this evocation of the waning of life were actually a rather jolly game.

 

Yet, perhaps because it is so unexpected, Delong’s recital is also enthralling. By avoiding the obvious rhythms, she discovers other metrical possibilities in the highly wrought text. At times, she makes it sing like Shakespearean blank verse. At others, she makes it reminiscent of the convoluted wordplay of John Donne or the strange syntax of Gerard Manley Hopkins. She thus creates a rich variety from prose that seems to glory in its own constraint. She justifies her smiles, too, by revealing the sly humour in a piece whose title is, after all, a self-mocking joke.

 

And ultimately Delong brings this richness back to a simple and moving point. The human reality behind the aesthetic mastery of Worstward Ho is that of age and forgetfulness. It gives us a mind in which memory is gradually defeated by oblivion.

 

Delong’s upfront recital, in which her own vividness is a counterweight to the dimly imagined figures evokes by the narrator, also makes us aware of how astonishing it is than anyone can commit to memory so difficult, dense, and strangely structured a text. Usually, the actor remembering the lines is something we take for granted. Here, that act of remembering is also a touching triumph over oblivion.

The Guardian, April 14, 2005

by Helen Meany

 

….In Worstward Ho language is both stretched and pared back. Lee Delong brings extraordinary depth and sympathy to a mind that is involuting and a body that no longer serves that mind. Her inflections, gestures—even her smiles—lead us through the thicket of negative abstractions, humanizing it, so that it becomes triumphant and moving…..

Irish Examiner, April 11, 2005

by Brian O’Connell

….Lee Delong gives a master class in delivery and control—the ability to relate the text to the audience without so much as a stutter should not be underestimated. The more reduced and undetermined the language is, the more potential meanings and significations its words take on. All the major themes of Beckett’s work are present—the futility of expression, the poverty of language and the problematic relationship between narrator and auditor. Not quite a troll in the park then, but certainly worth the effort….

 

Sunday Independent, April 17, 2005

by Emer O’Kelly

 

….It would hardly be going too far to suggest that the three performance alone justify the city’s European City of Culture year, even if Gare St. Lazare are merely visiting from Paris….”Dim can worsen,” Delong reminds herself, dressed with comic inappropriateness as a belligerent samurai warrior, but needing the ageing comfort of a fleece to top it off….

(c) Lee Delong 2020