Entertainment & Arts

No's Knife role will leave me shattered, says Lisa Dwan

Lisa Dwan in No's Knife Image copyright Manuel Harlan
Image caption Lisa Dwan in No's Knife

After years of performing Samuel Beckett's play Not I, a part she admits nearly "broke" her, Lisa Dwan is back in another gruelling role.

On Monday the actress will perform the premiere of No's Knife, adapted from Beckett's Texts for Nothing, in London.

The solo role will see her caked in gory make-up, suspended in mid-air and wandering through a peat bog.

"I don't how I'm going to come out by the end," Dwan told the BBC during final rehearsals at the Old Vic.

"It's like going through a cheese grater slowly. I'm ripping the flesh off."

Dwan adapted the play herself from Beckett's 1950s prose pieces Texts for Nothing.

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Media captionLisa Dwan's No's Knife opens Monday at The Old Vic in London

"It was never intended to be performed on stage, although Beckett had no objection," Dwan said.

"We invite the audience deep into the black and blue subconscious and into the mind's eye."

In Beckett's Not I, which she first performed in 2005, Dwan was blindfolded and strapped to a wooden board to play a disembodied female mouth speaking rapidly in a void.

Similarly, No's Knife puts her in a number of "hair-raising and precarious" positions.

One, in which Dwan is trapped in a crucifixion-like pose, has given her vertigo.

"I hope that it'll pass because the world is spinning a bit," the actress said. "I only realised it when I got up there. It's a bizarre position to be in."

'Buried bodies'

Dwan describes No's Knife as an exploration of a woman's mind and the struggles she faces relating to identity, ageing and misogyny.

The bog that appears on stage was inspired by a line in the text: "I am down in the hole the centuries have dug... flat on my face in the dark earth."

Dwan visited Dublin's National Gallery, where she saw bodies that had been preserved in peat bogs.

"It made me think of a lot of the buried bodies in Europe right now," she said.

"Not just from the First and Second World Wars, but all the drowned migrants - all of those who were never given a chance to be."

Dwan admitted that the performance, which lasts just over an hour, was an "exhausting experience".

"It's very hard to know how people will take it," she added. "I thought it was going to be a lot easier, I thought nothing could topple Not I.

"I'll be shattered, but hopefully I'll be very fulfilled."

No's Knife is at the Old Vic, London, until 15 October.

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