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This week again I visited the Everyman Palace Theatre in Cork to see The Godot Company‘s production of three of Beckett’s short plays: Rough for Theatre I, Play and Not I.  People usually have a love or hate relationship with Beckett.  I love Beckett and Not I is one of my favourite plays.  This was just what I needed.  The extra treat was that the director, Sergio Amigo, and John Calder, a friend and publisher of Beckett, were there to introduce the plays and answer a few questions after the performance.

People often see Beckett as depressing and pessimistic.  I would argue that he is more realistic than anything else; the problem is that the reality of life is not the most pleasant and people generally do not like to face it.  If you actually look at his plays a bit more closely, you can see them as a celebration of human perseverance despite the grimness of human condition.  This is brilliantly illustrated by the blind man in Rough for Theatre I who, when asked why he does not let himself die, answers: “I’m not unhappy enough . . . unhappy, but not unhappy enough”.

Beckett was a strict stage director and his plays are actually still under copyright so that new productions have to follow his stage directions, which give indications on the slightest little detail such as lighting, movements and so on.  It thus does not leave much leeway for directors and actors to play with and interpretations can only be minimal.

As you might notice in the three plays here, Beckett’s protagonists are often crippled or incapacitated in one way or another.  They are also often people who need others to complement them.  The plays are thus relevant in today’s world where we live next to one another but are alone in the end. 

Language is another concern central in Beckett’s theatrical oeuvre.  Beckett, like many postmodernists saw language as inadequate to represent reality and as arbitrary.  His distrust for language can be seen in the way his plays got increasingly shorter and movements took precedence over language, but also in the imperfection of language to communicate: Beckett’s protagonists are often seen as delivering monologue rather than talking to each others.  His dialogues are also often humourous as a result of this discrepancy between language and reality he constantly tries to foreground.  I cannot help thinking of Winnie in Happy Days who keeps repeating “it’s a happy day!” while buried up to her neck. 

The lives of Beckett’s protagonists are like ours, weighed by the mundanity of life: one day after another getting us closer to the only certainty in life, death.  Yet, Beckett’s protagonists display endurance and still managed to get through the days.  Is it not the story of our lives?  As John Calder says: “He is writing about you”.

Rough for Theatre I was written in French in the late 1950’s.  It is about a blind street musician and a crippled in a wheelchair.  Their lives have no purpose any more, yet they keep on going and might find relief in the companionship their encounter brings.  They complement each other; however, their need for each other might be too overwhelming to find relief in such companionship.  It was a touching play and probably the most accessible of the three played that night.

Play is about a triangular love relationship.  Man, woman 1 and woman 2 are in urns, with only their heads appearing, and tell us the story of an affair twice.  It is fast-paced and there is no dialogue between them.  All their lines are prompted by a spot throwing a bright light on them.  During the questions and answers, the actresses explained how different it was for them to learn their parts as they could not interact with the other actors but had to deliver their lines at the right moment and perfect pace, without inflexions or facial expressions. 

This is the BBC version of Play, directed by Alan Rickman:

Not I is a monologue told by a female “Mouth” to an auditor in complete darkness, only Mouth is supposed to be lit by a spotlight.  It is a jumble of words delivered at a rapid pace and one can barely make any sense out of it.  Mouth tells the repressed unpleasant experience of this “tiny little girl”, insisting that it did not happen to her.  When Beckett produced this play, Billie Whitelaw played the role of Mouth.  However, Beckett suppressed the auditor, who wears a black robe and raises his hands in a gesture of impatience, for the stage performance as he thought that his presence did more harm than good to the play (see ubuweb).  I had actually forgotten about the auditor’s presence and was surprised to see him on stage.  His presence was distracting, particularly when he raised his arms in a gesture that did not seem like impatience. 

This is Billie Whitelaw’s performance: 

I have read The Complete Dramatic Works of Samuel Beckett, but as you might have understood from this post, the plays take another dimension when performed.  For instance, reading the words of Not I is nothing compared to watching it played; you need the pace of the delivery as it becomes so hypnotic.  It is not often that the shorter plays are produced; they are even less accessible than his other plays and Calder argued that, in them, Beckett tried to give only the essence and thus cut them to their bare minimum.  I certainly hope to see more in the future.

This is a link to a website dedicated to Beckett and offering many interesting resources.

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At last, the day arrived! I went to see Beckett’s famous play, ‘Waiting for Godot’, at The Everyman Theatre in Cork. I wasn’t disappointed!

First of all, I think that going to the theatre is a great experience. I love to see the mix of people attending a play, I love the anticipation before entering the room, but above all, I love that feeling of intimacy you get with the actors.

As I’ve said in a previous post, this is a commemorative tour celebrating the Gate Theatre’s 80th anniversary, but also the 20th anniversary since the play was first produced by the Gate Theatre on Beckett’s request. With the exception of Johnny Murphy who only joined the cast in 1991, this 2008 production is acted by the original cast from 1988, that is Barry McGovern, Stephen Brennan, and Alan Stanford. I was particularly delighted to see Barry McGovern in a Beckett play, he is considered a master of Beckett and he did work with him a lot, so I believe that such a production is close to what Beckett would have done himself. Plus, I love Barry McGovern’s voice!!

I knew what to expect as I have read all of Beckett’s plays and studied ‘Waiting for Godot’ a few years ago, however I noticed that a few seats were empty after the interval. It made me smile and reminded me of the fact that when the play was first produced in France and in England the audience would often be dimayed and leave the room altogether! Indeed, it is difficult to know what to make of ‘Waiting for Godot’, or of any of Beckett’s plays for that matter. However, ‘Waiting for Godot’ is probably one of his most accessible plays since humour still seem to outweight that gloomy vision of human existence Beckett is often tagged with.

‘Waiting for Godot’ is a play about waiting and how to fill the time while waiting. It points at the pointlessness of human existence, when only one thing is certain, that we are all waiting to die.

“What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come” (Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot)

So, along with Vladimir and Estragon, last night I did wait…. And as Beckett’s plays often highlight it’s always more pleasant to wait with company than on one’s own, even if it does not make the waiting anymore logical.

And to give you a little taste, here are two extracts from the film, with the same actors… Enjoy!

I’m far too excited to keep this to myself! I’ve just been told that the Gate theatre are doing a tour through Ireland staging their production of ‘Waiting For Godot’. That means that Barry McGovern will be playing in it! It should be good!

First thing tomorrow, I’m ringing to book my ticket! Can’t wait! I will have to though, since it’s not until September…

Last night, I went to see a production of Beckett’s ‘First Love’ by the Gare St Lazare Players at the Half Moon in Cork. I couldn’t miss that! It was the first time I ever saw something by Beckett on stage, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was brilliant!

In a few words, the story is that of a man who, after his father’s death, is thrown out of home and meets a woman on a bench (his new home). He becomes obsessed by her, a feeling he associates with love. After a few encounters on the bench, he moves into the spare room where she lives. After one night of sex, he keeps living there, enduring the noise from the clients she receives in rotation. Finally, he abandons her on the day of the birth of their child because he cannot stand the cries, these have kept haunting him to this day.

It wasn’t a play per se, but rather a recitation of the short story, ‘First Love’. I did read it before, but the performance by Conor Lovett gave it a completely different dimension. First of all, there was the man, Conor Lovett, with a physical appearance worthy of a Beckett character. He had an impressive presence on stage and managed to give life to words. Reading the story, I might have smiled, but last night, I laughed! Many would consider Beckett’s writings as pessimistic, I think they are just realist and pragmatic. Death is a certainty, the only one we have, and life is just, well, time spent waiting for death. Now, Beckett’s vision of that waiting for death might seem bleak to some, but I personally find it quite funny. It is definitely ‘food for thought’, if nothing else. Beckett’s characters do not seem too bothered by the apparent insignificance of their life, and his humour highlights that we might take it all a bit too seriously!

“The smell of corpses, distinctly perceptible under those of grass and humus mingled, I do not find unpleasant, a trifle on the sweet side perhaps, a trifle heady, but how infinitely preferable to what the living emit, their feet, teeth, armpits, arse, sticky foreskins and frustrated ovules.” (Beckett, ‘First Love’)

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