Not I takes place in a pitch black space illuminated only by a single beam of light. This light illuminates an actress’s mouth. The mouth utters a monologue of fragmented, jumbled sentences which gradually coelesces into a narrative about a woman who has suffered an unpleasant experience. The title comes from the character’s repeated insistence that the events she describes did not happen to her.
The stage directions also call for a character called ‘the Auditor’ who wears a black robe and can be dimly seen at the back of the stage, occasionally raising its hands in a gesture of impatience. When Beckett came to be involved in staging the play, he found that he was unable to place the Auditor in a stage position that pleased him, and consequently allowed the character to be omitted from those productions. However, he did not decide to cut the character from the published script, and whether or not the character is used in production seems to be at the discretion of individual producers. As he wrote to two American directors in 1986: “He is very difficult to stage (light–position) and may well be of more harm than good. For me the play needs him but I can do without him. I have never seen him function effectively.”
‘Not I’ is like a stream of words. The audience disembodies the mouth, the voice from the actor and concentrates on the words, the voice, the mouth forming words. It’s strange and disorienting from a side of view, although it keeps the audience interested. Samuel Beckett uses some features of looping, like “What? Who? SHEEE”, that makes the audience not get bored and concentrate on the story of the woman being told.