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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.
This week I went to see After Miss Julie at the Everyman Palace Theatre in Cork. The play is produced by London Classic Theatre, a company whose plays I have seen and appreciated before, and directed by Michael Cabot.
After Miss Julie is Patrick Marber’s revision of a Swedish play by John August Strindberg. You might better know Marber for writing the play and film Closer, and one can find a similar interest in complex sexual relationships in both works.
After Miss Julie is set just after the war in Britain. Unmarried couple, Christine (Helen Barford) and John (Andy Dowbiggin), work for a lord, whose daughter, Miss Julie (Kathryn Ritchie) uses and abuses the power her position gives her to seduce John. Although John loves Christine, he is consumed with desire for Miss Julie, while at the time remaining aware of the potential consequences of this affair.
The play is raw and emotions are brought to their extreme, including onstage passionate scenes. The protagonists keep oscillating between love and hate, which becomes a little bit irritating at times, and their affair is passionate and doomed. The acting is excellent and renders the complexity of this triangular relationship with accuracy. I found Ritchie’s performance as the rich powerful girl particularly remarkable and her character is more complex than it appeared at first.
I would also give a special mention to Pete Foster for the lightning. It added so much to the atmosphere of a play that does not rely on plot.
“We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
This week, I went to see Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, which was produced by the Everyman Theatre Company with Michael Twomey directing. It was an enjoyable play.
The only work by Wilde I am familiar with is The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Lady Windermere’s Fan is set in the same 19th-century London society and it was great to see it in action. Wilde’s play can be seen as a critique of this society who is highly concerned with class and keeping up the appearances and whose favourite pastime is gossip.
“although they never talk scandal, they – well, of course – they remark on it to everyone”
Everybody in London assumes that Lord Windermere is having an affair with Mrs Erlynne, except his own wife. On her birthday, the affair is revealed to her. Despite her disbelief, Lady Windermere is forced to face this fact when she discovers that her husband has given large sums of money to Mrs Erlynne. As Lord Windermere invites Mrs Erlynne to Lady Windermere’s birthday party, Lady Windermere decides to run away with Lord Darlington, her fervent admirer. However, she is stopped by Mrs Erlynne, whose past is a secret Lord Windermere wants to hide from his wife. Although Lady Windermere never learns this secret, she is convinced by Mrs Erlynne of her husband’s innocence. Most importantly, she discovers that the world is not divided between good and bad people.
Although the beginning was a bit slow, everything contributed to a plot that was intriguing. There were many twists and not a minute of boredom. Many moments in the play were hilarious, such as when the Duchess (Ronnie O’Shaughnessy) reveals the affair to Lady Windermere (Rose Donovan) and begins rambling about men:
“And they never grow any better. Men become old, but they never become good.”
One of my favourite moments was in act three, when the five men wittingly discuss women and their society. It was full of repartee and humour and was particularly well acted.
“Oh! gossip is charming! History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality. Now, I never moralise. A man who moralises is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralises is invariably plain. There is nothing in the whole world so unbecoming to a woman as a Nonconformist conscience. And most women know it, I’m glad to say.”
The play reflects on issues such as love and marriage, good and bad, vanity and pleasure. Lady Windermere, who is the epitome of innocence at the beginning of the play, discovers that you cannot divide the world between good and bad people, that there is a bit of both in each of us.
I thought the acting was good. Vanessa Hyde was particularly impressive in the role of Mrs Erlynne. I also enjoyed the performance of Caroline Murphy. She plays a minor role as Lady Agatha and does not speak many lines, but her attitude as the Duchess’ docile daughter was well enacted.
Overall, it was an entertaining evening.
I went to see a production of Dancing at Lughnasa, Brian Friel’s play, by the Second Age at the Everyman Palace Theatre. This is the second Friel’s play I have seen and I actually preferred Lovers, which I found more poignant. However, the show was a full two and half hours of good entertainment.
This is another of those Irish plays I was discussing in a previous post and one can get sick of those typical Irish themes being overly dealt with. Yet, I thought that those themes were not in your face. The play evokes the Ireland of the mid 1930’s but in a subtle manner.
The story is that of a grown-up man, Michael, who remembers the summer of 1936; that summer when his mother and her four spinster sisters were dancing to the sound of their first wireless radio, when Father Jack, his uncle, had just come back from spending years in Uganda and was finding it difficult to reacclimatise to Western society and the Catholic religion of which he is a representative. This was also the last summer when the family was reunited and his father (who never married his mother) came to visit twice, thus allowing him to witness the happiness of his mother.
Although the play has as its background the poverty of living in the countryside in Donegal, it does not focus on these issues but depicts how the five sisters make everyday life enjoyable. There are some sad revelations during the play, but it never delves on them. It is an enjoyable play, which is well acted. I particularly liked Father Jack, but all five sisters were also admirable, each in their own way. I also liked the way Michael, the little boy, did not appear in the play, except as a grown up man narrating the story and speaking the few lines necessary for his presence as a boy, thus making him stand as an observer rather than as a participant of that summer of 1936.
This play was made into a film, but I think the play is more successful, the personality of each protagonist being more accentuated in the play. Here is the trailer of the film:
The last theatre review I posted was two years ago. Since, I have been to see a good few plays. I am one of those lucky students who get fantastic reductions at the Everyman Palace theatre in Cork, so I do not hesitate to book a ticket and go to see what’s going on behind the curtain. As a result, I have seen some plays I have liked and some I have liked a bit less… Each time, I am full of good intentions about writing a post about it, but then I’m thinking: “I can’t write about this play without first writing about the one I’ve previously seen”. Thus, I don’t write at all. I know it’s ridiculous, and let’s face it, I will never catch up, so I have decided to break the cycle.
The next play I went to see after Waiting for Godot was One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I had never seen the film, nor read the book, so I did not have that feeling that the play had let me down. I thought it was a good and entertaining show. This play was produced by an American company, the Keegan Theatre, which, I have since learnt, comes back every year on an Irish tour. They seem to be specialised in American classics (as you would expect) and the following year they came back with Of Mice and Men. Now, I have read the book but I found the adaptation quite powerful and I must admit to shedding a tear. This year they brought to stage a play written by Sam Sheppard, Fool for Love, and it was also very good. There is something about seeing the same company playing a few times, as if you get to meet old friends…
Most of the plays produced in the Everyman are Irish; they can be classics, by Samuel Beckett, Brian Friel and John B. Keane for instance, as well as contemporary plays. I think that apart from the three American plays discussed above, the only non-Irish play I saw was The Caretaker by Harold Pinter. I was so much looking forward to it, but I was a bit disappointed. It was kind of slow and, although I enjoyed it while watching it, it has not left an impression on me. I remember it, but only vaguely.
The biggest surprise was At Swim-Two-Birds, an adaptation of Flann O’Brien’s metafictional novel. I was really intrigued about how they would put that on stage and was impressed at how well it work. It was a great show and the actors were fantastic.
The Colleen Bawn, a play by Dion Boucicault and classic of Irish literature, comes as close second. The acting was great and it was enjoyable to see a play I had read take life. It was funny and sad at the same time and the protagonists were true to how they had been written. The play is based on a true story; unfortunately the denouement was not as happy in reality.
The biggest disappointment was Penelope by Enda Walsh. I am sorry to say I did not get his interpretation of The Odyssey. I was quite excited to see a revision of this myth as I very much enjoyed reading The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood and I thought it would be interesting to see another perspective. His focus is on the suitors, just before the return of Odysseus. It has been somewhat modernised and they are in an empty swimming pool eating the last of the food and drinking the last of the alcohol, knowing that these are their last days since they have all had the same dream of Odysseus’s return. It could work, but it did not, not for me anyway. I could not see what Walsh was getting at and there were too many lengths. I have the script a maybe if one day I decide to read it I will get something out of it.
I will not go into the rest of the plays; they were all very Irish-focused and some worked better than other; some were actually really enjoyable, while others where a bit tedious (that Irish theme tends to be overly done sometimes).
Tomorrow, I am going to see another of these Irish classics: Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel. I will report back…
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!