There is no body, quite literally, that we may call the main character in this drama. To account for the life the body has endured, only a body part necessarily remains to articulate the experience.
The mouth of Mouth relates the life experience of a woman abandoned after a premature, loveless birth and leading a miserable existence for almost 70 years: 'how she had lived … lived on and on … day after day … a few steps then stop … stare into space … then on … '. All her days have been passed in a reclusive silence, only stepping out to go shopping perhaps just once or twice a year, a life of nothing but breathing.
Now, however, the bodily existence that is all but ended is suddenly called to account before twin auditors - the silent on-stage Auditor and us, the silent audience in the auditorium. Our minds can no more comprehend the horror narrated than the mind of the mouth can accept or control its fearful, frenetic, fragmented response:
'… mouth on fire … stream of words … in her ear … practically in her ear … not catching the half … not the quarter … no idea what she's saying … imagine! … no idea what she's saying! … and can't stop … no stopping it … she who but a moment before … but a moment! … could not make a sound … no sound of any kind … now can't stop … imagine! … can't stop the stream … and the whole brain begging … something begging in the brain … begging the mouth to stop … pause a moment … if only for a moment … and no response … as if it hadn't heard … or couldn't …'
The mind is left separately 'raving away on its own … trying to make sense of it'. So horrific has been the suffering of the human condition that Mouth desperately tries to deny 'how it was … how it had been'. Refusing to confess 'what she was-' she insists vehemently on throwing the responsibility on to another: '… who? … no! … she! … SHE!'
However, the more that personal responsibility is evaded by the mouth without a body, the less compassionate is the downstage body without a mouth.
Also on stage and lurking in the dark abyss that has already engulfed most of Mouth's bodily existence is the nebulous figure of the Auditor. Forever 'intent on Mouth', the Dantean-like Auditor demands accountability. However, given Mouth's 'vehement refusal to relinquish third person,' the listener on stage finds it increasingly difficult to offer anything more than a silent 'gesture of helpless compassion'. Does the listener off stage offer as much?
The screen production drops altogether the role of the stage Auditor, just as Beckett himself did for a stage production with Madeleine Renaud in 1978. In a note to an American director in 1986, Beckett advised: '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.'