Just to follow up on the previous blog post, copies of the Staging Beckett book on Beckett’s involvement in plans to build a theatre in his name can be found at Oxford University’s online shop here.
Master’s Lodgings – Canal House
28 November 2013 15:00 – 16:00
You are invited to a launch event for a book which tells the history of the plans to build what was to be the Samuel Beckett Theatre in St Peter’s College, Oxford around forty years ago.
A Dream and its Legacies: The Samuel Beckett Theatre Project, Oxford c.1967-76, by Dr David Tucker, describes the direct involvement of Beckett, artists such as Francis Bacon and Henry Moore, architects Norman Foster and Richard Buckminster Fuller, as well as a range of British playwrights, actors and directors. The book presents a previously untold part of Beckett’s life story which reveals much about the collaborative friendships of the time, as well as Beckett’s thinking about certain of his texts.
The launch will take place in the Master’s Lodgings – Canal House in Bulwark’s Lane
Thursday 28 November at 3pm to 4pm
Please RSVP by 22 November
to Linda Lee-Wright, firstname.lastname@example.org
12th to 17th September, Dublin, 2013
Company SJ and Barabbas, dir. Sarah Jane Scaife
Sarah Jane Scaife sets her doubly-billed productions of Rough for Theatre I and Act Without Words II in a disused yard adjacent to the Ulster Bank offices on the banks of Dubin’s Liffey river. Her Company SJ and Dublin theatre company Barabbas are dedicated to re-inserting the writings of Beckett into the architecture and social spaces of Dublin city. As Scaife puts it in the programme notes, they invite audience members to note the surrounding combination of social decay and financial power as they walk to, and enter, the performance space.
Lianne O’Shea’s subtle lighting illuminated areas around the perimeter of the space which initially people were free to investigate: candles circle a quote from Waiting for Godot, written in chalk (‘they give birth astride of a grave’), a fire burns in a small metal bin. When the first performance, Rough for Theatre I, begins, chairs are carried to a semi-circle in one area of the yard, lit by footlights. Under a butterfly tree, its blooms beginning to decay as the autumn cold sets in, A (Trevor Knight) scratches his bow across a battered violin, the sound as uncomfortable to the ear as the biting cold is to the gathered bodies. Scaife’s Rough reveals relationality in extremes, one human reaching toward another in a gesture marred by cruelty and domination. It is not clear what Raymond Keane’s B wants from A: company or servitude?
During the break between the shorts, staff hand us a cup of cocoa, but it does little against what is becoming a very committed Dublin wind. We’re grateful however, and for the fact that no rain is falling. As we turn, shivering to the next performance, dirt and cold become central to this theatrical experience. A and B in Act Without Words II are huddled in sleeping bags on cardboard under the only shelter in the yard – a corrugated iron awning. The more fastidious B’s (Brian Burroughs) response to the dirt around him as he performs the routing of getting up, exercised, dressed and moving his and A’s sack on a few feet, make us even more aware of the precariousness of this existence, as does A’s (Raymond Keane) palsied gestures as he goes through his version of the ‘routine’. A’s movements are painfully slow, as if control over his body is waning and made all the more painful by the biting cold. The dramas, combined with the weather and the darkness, demand that the audience give thought to the difficulties of survival under such conditions.
The performances are a testament to the actors’ skills, retaining physical control and precision throughout the performance – challenging even without the cold. Scaife’s approach focuses on the poverty and deprivation that these texts evoke: Beckett’s use of the vagrant as a reflection upon normative society. Scaife’s siting of the plays expands the resonance to a consideration of the material conditions of poverty and the structural conditions which permit or create it, as well as the spiritual and existential poverty that comes with being, as Heidegger’s Dasein, thrown in the world. In taking Beckett back to the concrete – literally and figuratively – Scaife allows both of these resonances to co-exist.
Raymond Keane in Act Without Words II, dir. Sarah Jane Scaife and Barabbas Theatre Company
6th to 16th March, 2013, The Factory Theatre, Sligo & 24th to 25th August, Happy Days Festival Enniskillen, 2013
Directed by Niall Henry
With director Niall Henry and several company members trained in corporeal mine, the approach that the Blue Raincoat theatre company took to Waiting for Godot responds to many of the demands that the play makes upon its actors’ bodies. John Carty’s Clov warps his spine into something resembling an S-shape: his head tilts forward, his back sags, pushing his abdomen out. His stylised limp reveals a deftness and control over gesture and body, which allows him to evoke the character’s physical decay without diminishing the rhythm of the play. Peter Davey’s Nagg and Sandra O’Malley’s Nell are, similarly, testaments to what can be done with the restricted body, with the former appearing in pale and craggy profile from his oil-drum.
The realist box set, so often in Irish theatre an image of the cottage interior, however ironised, is rendered here in decay: there is no furniture bar the necessary chair for blind Hamm and a pair of oil-drums for Nagg and Nell; its walls are peeling, the inhabitants similarly dilapidated. The audience enters to this vision: rusting decay, with Hamm in its midst. The Blue Raincoat’s home theatre in Sligo, The Factory, is a converted industrial space in which the company fits dressing rooms, foyer and black box space into what is quite a narrow, though high-roofed space. With seating raked against one wall, Endgame’s set fills the rest of black-box space entirely. When Clov examines the ‘exterior landscape’ through his telescope, there is very obviously no outside. The space meta-theatrically shuts down the possibility of an outside – beyond that ‘window’ is the solid brick wall of the theatre building, thus lending itself readily to the play’s sense of claustrophobia.
If the performance held a flaw, it lay perhaps in the most physically difficult role in the play, that of Hamm. While Ciaran McCauley’s rendering of the part was deeply evocative of Hamm’s decaying and restricted physicality, his vocal pitch modulated little throughout the performance. While this evoked Hamm’s age and decrepitude, it did not communicate the pleasure he takes in narration, revealed in his self-congratulatory ‘nicely put that’. Like Winnie in Happy Days, his words are the only pleasures left to him – there are no more painkillers after all, no more bicycles, nor bon bons. In this pared-away world at the end of worlds, words, and perhaps his torment of servant Clov, are his greatest pleasures. For this reason, the fact that McCauley did not modulate his voice to hint at this pleasure was somewhat problematic and meant that the true darkness of the play was not always registered: it does not rest in the cruelty of the relationships between Hamm and Clov, and Hamm and his parents, but in the abyss into which all of them, especially blind Hamm stares, and which he attempts to cover over with talk, stories, words. That said, this was a satisfying production from a company skilled in physical precision. The peeling walls and Clov’s warped physicality give a sense of life encrusted and slowly dying, with Nagg and Nell a pair of statuesque icons of the apocalypse.
Conference Call For Papers
Staging Beckett: Constructing Performance Histories
Minghella Building, University of Reading 4-5 April 2014
Staging Beckett is a three year research collaboration between the universities of Chester, Reading, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project started in September 2012, and is exploring the impact of productions of Beckett’s plays on British and Irish theatre practice and cultures while also looking at how Beckett has been staged internationally. It is compiling a database of professional productions of Beckett’s plays in the UK and Ireland.
The project’s first conference (4-5 April 2014) will focus on the history, documentation and analysis of Beckett’s theatre in performance: while Beckett’s directing practice has been much discussed, and critical attention has been paid to selected premiere productions (the French, British, Irish or US premieres of Godot, for example), or ‘deviant’ productions such as the 1984 American Repertory Theatre production of Endgame, there is a great deal of work to be done in researching the diversity of productions of Beckett’s theatre in the UK, Ireland and internationally. Questions we are asking include:
- How did approaches to staging Beckett’s theatre change from the 1950s to the twenty-first century?
- Have there been distinct approaches to staging Beckett at particular moments and in particular theatre cultures?
- How have productions of Beckett’s plays commented on or reflected wider political / economic contexts?
- What kinds of dialogues can we trace between productions of Beckett’s plays and local, national or international theatre histories?
- Can we trace cross-influences in approaches to staging Beckett across productions?
- What can particular case studies of individual or comparative productions contribute to constructing performance histories of Beckett’s theatre?
- How can future performance practice of Beckett’s theatre be informed or inspired by previous productions?
- We are also interested in methodological issues around Beckett, performance and the archive, and around Beckett, performance and the digital.
We are keen to hear from academics and practitioners (whether UK, Irish or international) interested in the legacies of particular performances, the documentation and analysis of Beckett in performance, and in the dialogues between productions of Beckett’s theatre and wider theatre practices and cultural / political contexts. Issues to consider might be, but are not limited to, the following:
- How particular directors / performers have approached staging Beckett.
- How particular economic, funding, and / or political contexts have influenced productions of Beckett’s plays
- Beckett and stage design / scenography
- Technical innovation in productions of Beckett
- ‘Deviant’ or ‘alternative’ productions (ie that have flouted Beckett’s stage directions)
- Productions that were planned and didn’t happen (refused permission, for example)
- Beckett and particular local, national or international theatre cultures
- The ‘festivalisation’ of Beckett
- International touring productions to the UK and Ireland
- UK and Irish productions that have toured (such as Dublin Gate Beckett Festival)
- Digital archives of Beckett in performance / Beckett performance on the web
Please send proposals of c. 150 words to Anna McMullan (email@example.com) by Friday 13th December 2013.
Informal enquiries can be sent to Anna at the above email address, or to Graham Saunders (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Trish McTighe (email@example.com).
Future Staging Beckett conferences are: Staging Beckett in the Regions (University of Chester, September 2014), and Beckett and Theatre and Performance Cultures (University of Reading, April 2015).
Staging Beckett team: Matthew McFrederick (Reading) Anna McMullan (Reading), Trish McTighe (Reading) David Pattie (Chester), Graham Saunders (Reading) David Tucker (Chester).