Exhibition – ‘Seeing Beckett’

As part of our recent conference in Chester and also forthcoming at the Liverpool Irish Festival, the Staging Beckett team are delighted to present an exhibition of contemporary visual art and graphic design curated in collaboration with Matthew Johnson at Liverpool John Moores University, entitled ‘Seeing Beckett’.

The idea behind this exhibition is to attempt to visualise the sensation and affect of an encounter with Samuel Beckett’s work, rather than just a literal representation of Beckett’s characters. The images of artistic and / or applied visual research practice presented here engage with Beckett’s drama, prose, letters, critical writing and / or poetry in many different ways. The makers of the visual works were able to present their own individual and personal take on any of the texts and the original work can be in any media, including three-dimensional, performance and film-based works, albeit remediated in a standard A3 size print. The exhibition consists of experimental projects, works in progress and / or existing works that have been re-imagined for this context.

The exhibition can be seen at Liverpool John Moores University 27 October – 02 November 2014 as part of Liverpool Irish Festival.

Here are a few images from the Chester leg:

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 2






Staging Beckett at the Margins

Congratulations to the Chester University branch of our project on the recent Staging Beckett at the Margins conference and our thanks to David Pattie and David Tucker for hosting. Thanks too to all the delegates who contributed to the event and showed once again the richness and diversity that characterizes international productions of Beckett’s work. Adding to the list of international locales which we saw discussed at Reading in April, we heard theatre surveys from Cyprus, Romania, and the city of Los Angeles, learning also of the malleability of the figure of Godot as metaphor across the history of Israeli theatre production in Shimon Levy’s talks. We heard accounts of the work that happens outside the UK’s major metropolitan cultural hubs at, for example, the West Yorkshire Playhouse, as discussed by Mark Taylor-Batty and even within them, as our own Matthew McFrederick’s discussion of Beckett’s time at the Riverside Studios revealed.

We had two keynotes, different but complementary: Carl Lavery connected an ecological understanding of theatre with the forms of attention which Beckett’s work demands of its audiences, calling up them to witness the undoing of time and subjectivity in the theatre as ‘garden’. The wonderful Tricia Kelly talked not only of the process of creating her role for Not I (in six days, no less) but gave us a captivating reading of the play, leaving us all spellbound and pinned to the spot by the frantic energy of her embodiment of Mouth. A recording was made of her talk and will be made available in the future via the Staging Beckett website.

And congratulations also to David Tucker on the very successful ‘Seeing Beckett’ exhibition, which was launched as part of the conference. Contributors were invited to make a piece of visual art responding to Beckett’s work. The results were sensitive and compelling pieces which fit beautifully into the conference theme, giving us a sense of the aesthetic fertility of the unseen, the hidden, the subtle and of course, the marginal. The exhibition can be seen at the Liverpool School of Art & Design from the  27th – 31st Oct 2014 as part of the Liverpool Irish Festival.


Upcoming Beckett Events at the University of Reading

From the University of Reading:

We will be holding an exhibition and series of public events to celebrate the University’s internationally renowned collection of manuscripts from the Nobel Prize-winning writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989).

Wednesday 1 – Saturday 4 October
Public Exhibition: “Samuel Beckett in London – the Murphy Notebooks”. 
Museum of English Rural Life (free).
At this exhibition, which will focus on Beckett’s time in London between 1934 and 1935, the University’s recently acquired notebooks for Beckett’s novel Murphy will be on display alongside a wide range of other material.

Thursday 2 October
Beckett Archive Workshop. 
2-4pm, Museum of English Rural Life (free). Please book in advance.
Open to all, this free two-hour workshop will introduce the University’s Beckett archive to participants. It is open to any interested members of the public, but places must be booked in advance.

Friday 3 October
Public Lecture and Drinks Reception: Professor Dan Gunn – “Samuel Beckett Through his Letters”.
5.30pm, Minghella Building, Whiteknights Campus (free). Please book in advance.
Dan Gunn is Professor of Comparative Literature and English at the American University of Paris, and editor of the Letters of Samuel Beckett.

Saturday 4 October
The Beckett International Foundation Annual Research Seminar 2014. 
10am, Museum of English Rural Life (£20 waged, £15 unwaged). Includes lunch and refreshments. Please book in advance.
This day-long advanced seminar will explore some of the latest research in Beckett Studies.

For further details and booking please contact:
Workshop and/or Lecture: Conor Carville – c.carville@reading.ac.uk
BIF Seminar: Mark Nixon – m.nixon@reading.ac.uk

Beckett’s Hammersmith Home Takes a Long Pause


Samuel Beckett directing the San Quentin Drama Workshop actors Bud Thorpe and Rick Cluchey. (Photo by Chris Harris, David Gothard Collection.)

Samuel Beckett directing the San Quentin Drama Workshop actors Bud Thorpe and Rick Cluchey. (Photo by Chris Harris, David Gothard Collection.)

On 5th September 2014 the final theatre where Samuel Beckett worked will close its doors to undergo a major three year redevelopment process. It was 30 years ago that the Riverside Studios, an arts centre in Hammersmith, offered Beckett and the San Quentin Drama Workshop a rehearsal space for their production of Waiting for Godot. Indeed 4 years prior to these rehearsals it also hosted their rehearsals for Endgame. Although these productions were not intended for UK audiences, they did go on to be performed across the world under the title ‘Beckett directs Beckett’. Prior to departing for the Adelaide Arts Festival in 1984, they did however perform Godot for school children in the Hammersmith area in what was considered a final dress rehearsal for this production.

The Riverside’s existing facilities and the building that Beckett would have rehearsed in will be replaced under new developments plans. The new Riverside complex is set to reopen in 2017 with facilities that will include three studios, a cinema and screening room, a community & rehearsal area and a much enhanced public entertainment space.

Designs for the new Riverside Studios in 2017.

Designs for the new Riverside Studios in 2017.

Beckett arrived at the Riverside as part of his work with the San Quentin Drama Workshop which stemmed out of his friendship with a former San Quentin prison inmate and Workshop founder, Rick Cluchey. They corresponded frequently over many years about their productions and Cluchey’s persistent suggestions that Beckett view or help out rehearsals paid dividends when Beckett first directed Cluchey in Krapp’s Last Tape in 1977. The following year Beckett helped the group with rehearsals for Endgame in Berlin when he had spare time from his own rehearsals of Spiel (Play) at the Schiller Theater.

During these periods Beckett clearly developed a rapport with the group, whom he referred to as the ‘San Quentinites’ and when a proposed BBC TV production of Eh Joe featuring Cluchey and Billie Whitelaw failed to materialise, Beckett felt a greater sense of responsibility for the group’s touring plans in 1980. His reluctance to return to Dublin, where the 1980 production of Endgame was set to be staged at the Abbey’s Peacock Theatre meant another rehearsal venue had to be found. As a result, the Riverside Studios became an accommodating alternative theatrical home for Beckett in London.
Rehearsing at the Riverside was ‘a happy time for [Beckett]’, where he was in a relaxed mood amongst friends enjoying the creative energy and hospitality shown to him. One of its former employees, Hanif Kureishi, said of the Riverside over these years, ‘For many writers, actors, dancers and artists, Riverside was what a university should be: a place to learn and talk and work and meet your contemporaries. There was no other place like it in London’. Indeed Beckett was one of the many major international artists who worked at the Studios over its lifespan, including Dario Fo, Joan Miro, Antony Gormley and Michael Clark.

Beckett observing rehearsals at the Riverside Studios. (Photo by Chris Harris, David Gothard Collection.)

Beckett observing rehearsals at the Riverside Studios. (Photo by Chris Harris, David Gothard Collection.)

The rehearsals saw Beckett fine tune the productions before they went on tour with Beckett paying greater attention to the shape and precision of the performance. He would often give the actors line readings or offer more specific notes on performing the characters in his plays. Beckett was also open to performing in rehearsals himself and on one occasion, in the absence of Teri Garcia Suro, Beckett performed the role of Nell alongside Alan Mandell as Nagg. A moment described by the actor Bud Thorpe, who played Clov in the production as ‘frighteningly beautiful.’
This period demonstrated the continuous development of Beckett’s creative intuitions. Since he first wrote the plays his perspective as a writer had changed and in rehearsals he would make cuts and changes to the text. Indeed Mandell noted he once said “There’s too much text” with irritation in his voice. He also came to these plays with new experiences as a director, having previously worked on them in German at the Schiller Theater, Berlin. His detailed production notebooks and annotated texts held at the University of Reading’s Beckett Collection illustrate these developments. By the end of rehearsals Beckett left the Riverside tired from his hard work, though pleased with the results of his endeavours. Indeed his biographer James Knowlson called Waiting for Godot in 1984: ‘one of the most beautiful moonlight productions.’
Other productions of Beckett’s work were staged at the Riverside involving some performers synonymous with his theatre. These included Texts (an adaptation of Texts for Nothing and How It Is) performed by Joseph Chaikin in 1981, Rockaby/Footfalls/Enough with Billie Whitelaw and Max Wall in Krapp’s Last Tape in 1986. Furthermore the Riverside staged the first production of Beckett’s drama after his death, with a production of Krapp’s Last Tape and Catastrophe, featuring David Warrilow and bringing together a number of Beckett’s closest friends in the theatre to his alternative theatrical home.
With the Studios closing tomorrow, William Burdett-Coutts stated regarding the venue’s future, ‘In our new environment we will continue to provide a mixed programme of performing art in all its forms as well as the best in cinema and television. Our intention is to combine Riverside’s historic success into a new offering, in which we collaborate with arts organisations from around the country.’ Will Beckett’s drama be part of the Riverside Studios future? We’ll have to wait until 2017…