From the Archives: Cyril Cusack in Krapp’s Last Tape, The Abbey Theatre, June 1960

The great Irish actor Cyril Cusack (1910-1993), who was well known internationally and highly accomplished on both the stage and the screen, performed in a double bill of Krapp’s Last Tape with Shaw’s Arms and the Man at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1960 (Note that Abbey productions were at this time still being presented at the Queen’s theatre following the fire of 1951). Cusack, an actor whose career spanned almost the breadth of the 20th century, first performed on the stage at the age of 7, and seems to have had a deep interest in Beckett’s work, particularly so in the 1950s and 60s. A few years prior to this production of Krapp’s Last Tape, he had written to Beckett looking for permission to do a bilingual version of Waiting for Godot. In May 1955, Beckett wrote to him giving his permission for this planned bi-lingual adaptation of the play at the Abbey Theatre. Cusack’s vision had the play set in Connemara, with Vladimir and Estragon speaking Irish to each other and English to Pozzo and Lucky ‘as is the familiar pattern in Gaeltacht areas’. Cusack recounts much later that Donald Albery’s resistance to Godot being produced in Dublin in English made him, in temper, suggest this measure. Beckett gives him the necessary contact details for the rights from Editions de Minuit but seems somewhat bemused by the request writing, ‘By all means do it in Gaelic in Dublin if you think it worth while. Why parts in English?’[1] This particular production, with all its postcolonial resonances, never materialised; Cusack went on to play Krapp at the Abbey and later made a recording of readings of Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable (Caedmon Records, 1963).

A programme for Cusack’s production of Krapp’s Last Tape is held at the Dublin City Library and Archive and no doubt some new material will come to light through the Abbey Theatre’s digitisation project at NUI, Galway. Reviews for this production suggest some disappointment, with Krapp’s Last Tape in particular. Yet this was down perhaps to the strength of the production which preceded it. One reviewer had the opinion that, coming after the ‘tour de force’ of Arms and the Man (with Maureen Cusack and directed by Godfrey Quigley), Krapp’s Last Tape was something of a disappointment: ‘Mr Cusack laboured the early earthiness and the grotesque, bewildering the audience, leaving them uncertain how to take the poetry, and tempting them perhaps to seek an easy refuge in his virtuosity.’[2] Yet, negative comments aside, this doubly-billed production clearly had appeal; after playing in Belfast at the Empire Theatre and in Dublin, it went on to represent Ireland at several European festivals of drama. During what was a month-long tour of Europe, Cusack’s performances won him the individual award for best actor the International Festival in Paris.[3]

cusack Cyril Cusack (1910-1993)

 

 

 

 


[1] See Fehsenfeld et al (eds), The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1941-1956, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 533-4

[2]Arms and the Man & Krapp’s Last Tape’, Irish Times, 21 June 1960

[3] ‘Best Actor Award for Cyril Cusack,’ Irish Times, 14 July 1960, p. 1.

Beckett Productions in 2014

Happy Days will be staged at the Young Vic London from 23rd January-8th March 2014, with Juliet Stephenson playing the role of Winnie. Credit: Young Vic

Happy Days will be staged at the Young Vic London from 23rd January-8th March 2014, with Juliet Stephenson playing the role of Winnie. Credit: Young Vic

Looking ahead to the 2014 calendar shows that it will be another busy year for Beckett productions in the UK and Ireland. So far, January has already set the pace with Saturday seeing the end of the sold out Royal Court run of Not I/Footfalls/ Rockaby featuring Lisa Dwan, while Tom Owen performed as Krapp at the Rose Theatre Kingston on Monday 13th January . Last Thursday and Friday also saw Company SJ perform Act Without Words II as part of the Abbey Theatre’s The Theatre of Memory Symposium.

More Beckett performances are on their way as early as this week with Juliet Stephenson taking on the role of Winnie in an eagerly anticipated production of Happy Days at the Young Vic directed by Natalie Abrahami. Demand has seen this production already extend its run from 23rd January-8th March.

After a two week break Lisa Dwan returns to her acclaimed trilogy directed by Walter Asmus, though this time the production moves to the Duchess Theatre in London’s West End for a two week run from 3rd-15th February. Later in the year Dwan and the Royal Court will embark on a UK, Irish and International tour. The UK dates announced so far include:  9th-13th September-Arts Theatre Cambridge, 16th-20th September-Birmingham Repertory Theatre and 23rd-27th September-The Lowry Salford.

Productions of Waiting for Godot and Endgame are also planned for the Arcola Theatre, London (7th May-14th June) and the Wilde Theatre, Bracknell (5th-8th June) respectively. Happy Days will also tour to various venues around Ireland courtesy of the Godot Theatre Company.

Richard Wilson, renowned for his role of Victor Meldrew in One Foot in the Grave, returns to the Beckett stage having previously performed as Vladimir in Waiting for Godot at the Traverse in Edinburgh and Royal Exchange Manchester. This time he performs in Krapp’s Last Tape at the Crucible Theatre Sheffield from 25th June-19th July.

As usual Enniskillen will be transformed into Beckett Town when the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival takes its summer residency. This year’s multi-arts festival takes place from 31st July-10th August and will no doubt once again provide a vibrant international perspective on Beckett, with global productions once again expected to descend upon Enniskillen.

Beckett month in Ireland will continue with the annual TCD Samuel Beckett Summer School, from 10th-16th August, providing a rich mix of scholarship, performance and talks.

This extensive list does not even take into account the numerous productions happening internationally such as Godot’s extended run on Broadway with Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, Barry McGovern in I’ll Go On, Mouth on Fire’s productions in Hyderabad and Pan Pan’s All That Fall touring in Sydney and Brisbane.

If you have a Beckett production coming up, please let us know and we’ll add it to the list!

 

Further productions announced since this original post:

Company SJ will present its two site-specific Beckett pieces, Rough For Theatre I and Act Without Words II as the centre piece for the exhibition: “Godot on Rubble; Beckett and Catastrophe”. These performances will run from 10th-14th June at the  Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Musuem, Waseda University, Japan, while the exhibition will be held from April-July 2014 at Waseda University.

Taking Stock: Recent Irish Productions

Selected productions in 2013 from Ireland’s smaller companies

 

Whether it is to do with the anniversary of Waiting for Godot, or helped by the creation of the Happy Days Festival in Enniskillen, it seems that there was much Beckett in the air in 2013 – especially among some of Ireland’s foremost smaller, independent theatre companies. Pan Pan, who have recently presented Embers and All that Fall, is a good example (a link to this company’s website with images from Embers, can be found here). The Blue Raincoat theatre company, whose production of Endgame is reviewed on this blog here, is another. However there are companies who have been working on Beckett for quite some time who have presented work recently also: Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland, for example. Their production of Waiting for Godot ran in Dublin, Belfast, and Boston in October and November. Reviews of their successful international tour can be found in the following: Broadway World, Boston Globe, Edge Boston and Emertainment Monthly. Conor Lovett brought a remarkable vulnerability to his subtle Vladimir, set against a visually arresting lunar landscape.

This is the second time that the company have worked on this play. However their first production came much earlier in their careers. While in the interim years artistic director Judy Hegarty-Lovett and the Lecoq trained Lovett have established themselves as among the finest interpreters of Beckett’s prose works, they have turned (or returned) now to this dramatic work.

The Beckett related work that companies like Gare St. Lazare, Blue Raincoat, Pan Pan and Company SJ are currently engaging in is a clear indication of the energy that the drama still brings to the Irish theatre scene and more widely. While all these companies began life or came to notice in the 1990s and all share some connection to Ireland, Blue Raincoat and Pan Pan have only recently begun to work on Beckett’s drama. The former presented their very successful Endgame this year (2013) and the latter presented their production of the radio play Embers this year also, and All that Fall in 2012. While the fact that such innovative companies have turned to Beckett recently is notable in itself, it is also interesting to see the kind of work in which companies who have had a longer relationship with the author, like Company SJ (with Barabbas) and Gare St. Lazare, are engaging. Company SJ’s site specific production is reviewed here. It is exciting to see what new and innovative routes they are taking into the work, as well as what new perspectives on the drama are emerging because of the work of all of these companies. This is one of the key questions that the Staging Beckett Project is asking our interviewees, which include members of the above companies: just what is it that keeps these artists coming back to or going towards Beckett?

 

lovettgodot Gary Lydon (left) as Estragon and Conor Lovett (right) as Vladimir in the Gare St Lazare production. The cast also included Taig Murphy in the role of Lucky and Gavin O’Herlihy as Pozzo, seen below on the ghostly lunar set.

Review: Rough for Theatre I and Act Without Words II

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.

awwII

Raymond Keane in Act Without Words II, dir. Sarah Jane Scaife and Barabbas Theatre Company

 

 

Review: Endgame, The Blue Raincoat 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.