Teaching Beckett: Critical Practice in Television Part 2 by Dr Simone Knox

Having sketched out my pedagogical interest in combining the teaching of critical practice with a close study of Samuel Beckett’s work in the first part of this blog post double bill, let me now tell you more about the actual teaching project itself: after a series of lectures, seminars, presentations and workshops, I give the students a poem by Beckett, and ask them to devise a piece of drama in response, about which they subsequently write a piece of reflective documentation. I keep the instructions on the brief deliberately open, and the students develop their ideas, shoot and edit, in consultation with me. You can watch one such response, to Beckett’s “What Is the Word”, directed by Matthew Andrews, Leila Pourhosseini and Olivia Witt here:

With the allusions to Beckett’s own experience of aphasia, the use of stylized movement, ambiguous space, pared-down narrative and rhythmic repetition, Beckett’s influence is evident. But the piece also develops a distinct aesthetic identity: Beckett’s work often has the camera capturing action unfolding on a stage-like space, whereby, as my colleague Jonathan Bignell has argued,

“the duration of camera shots and the common use of long shots giving access to the completeness and depth of the space militates against the camera’s restriction of choice about where to look, so that the camera’s agency as an instrument of selective perception is diminished.”[1]

Here, the camera has an investigative, active agency that probes into the space, which, together with the rhythmic editing, addresses the thematic concept of (obscured) vision and its relationship to knowledge, in a particular way.  Here, Olivia Witt thoughtfully remarks in her documentation that the intention was “that the shadows on the male character’s face would depict his obscured knowledge in a way which could not be expressed through a complete lack of light, as shadows require light to exist, thus the male character’s knowledge is not absent, just concealed.”

Through the bringing together of the range of expertise and resources we enjoy here at the University, I have been delighted to facilitate the making of such research-driven, critically reflective student work that I hope you agree vividly demonstrates the students’ skills and understanding. What it shows is that creative (and, indeed, playful) experimentation and the current emphases on professionalization and employability are not binary opposites; in fact, one can, and should, meaningfully inform the other.


[1] Bignell, Jonathan. Beckett on screen: the television plays. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009, p.141.

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