It’s hard to know what to make of this 40-minute production, set on the platform of a railway station in a nameless, timeless town. It has hints of absurdism and it’s occasionally surreal, but a lot of it feels unintentionally obscure. Perhaps it’s a comment on the moments of decision that define our lives; or perhaps it’s something else entirely. I’m simply not sure.
The story begins with a quarrelling couple, whose argument initially surrounds the eponymous suitcase - which the woman has packed, but the man has to carry. Soon, the discussion escalates to a debate over whether they’re truly in love, at which point a passer-by intervenes. One of the couple embarks on a flight-of-fantasy affair with this new arrival, imagining a better and more beautiful world to which the train could carry them. Their reverie is interrupted by the departure of the train, and the whole scene plays out again - this time with genders reversed, a different passer-by, and a different dream.
The motif of imagined happiness with a stranger - interrupted by a swift return to reality - has a poignancy to it. And there’s some cleverness in the repetition: the two scenes echo each other in surprising ways, most notably when the second passer-by pulls an unexpected object out of her capacious bag. But I didn’t learn any more about the characters from the second spin round: the man carrying the suitcase still seemed sulky and dislikable, while the woman who packed it still seemed unpleasantly self-absorbed. I’m afraid to say that I didn’t get the point of it.
Sad to say, too, the production’s let down by some hard-to-follow diction - indeed, one of the benefits of the repeated scene is that I got a second chance to catch the lines I missed the first time round. On the plus side, a complex series of entrances and exits is slickly done, and there’s some nice visual humour in a procession of objects we see carried across the stage. The immersive opening is successful too, with tickets for the show in the style of railway vouchers and some in-character banter about waiting for a train to welcome us in.
For me, though, the stand-out character is the beggar of the title, who spends the whole of the play sitting on the railway-station bench strumming his guitar. He’s the court jester of this piece - licensed to throw in wittily cutting asides, or to roll his eyes in surprise at what we’ve seen unfold. Unfortunately, all too often, this gentle giant’s expression reflected an indulgent confusion which I was experiencing for real. I just don’t know where this train was heading to.