13th Jul 2015
Out of Joint is presenting a rare live production of Samuel Beckett’s radio play All That Fall, in collaboration with the Enniskillen Happy Days Festival. We asked some of the cast about their first encounters with Beckett.
“Leaving three actors in charge seemed a recipe for disaster”
My first opportunity to perform in a Beckett play came in 1994 when I was cast as Estragon in a New Victoria Theatre production of Waiting For Godot. Other New Vic regulars Paul McCleary and Lennox Greaves were to play Vladimir and Pozzo respectively. When we arrived for the first read through our director Peter Cheeseman announced that he didn’t believe we would have much need of his services and handed over the direction of the production to us three .
The play is difficult, dense and multi layered enough for any experienced director, but to have not one but three actors, inexperienced at directing, who were also in the production, in charge, seemed a sure recipe for disaster.
Thankfully we were saved by a Birmingham University professor and Beckett expert who took pity on us, gave us a crash course on the play and playing Beckett, and we managed to pull it off.
“High flung philosophy from low lying mouths”
I knew Beckett from schooldays – well, knew of him. The sort of person you were supposed to know about. The obscure and difficult artist that for a teenager to know was cool.
But I first really met him in a tiny hall off Sherriff Street in the centre of Dublin when some school pals were arguing, fighting more like, over what lines to include or cut from their adaptation of his novels for a one-man show. Jim Sheridan and his brother Peter, armed with well-worn A4 pages and biros, Vinnie McCabe the actor voicing the results of their latest joust. So this is who Beckett was? A master of words, and rhythms I knew. Hilarious. Speaking the thoughts inside Vinnie’s mind.
These three and Mister Sheridan had done a famous production of Godot that shocked the amateur circuit. They were baptised in Beckett. They bit the nose off each other fighting for sense, non-sense, for continuity, and laughter.
Then in a dark and dingy basement on Abbey Street which was the original incarnation of the Project Arts Centre I saw my first theatre apart from school Gilbert and Sullivans. Vinnie as Krapp, and how he sat into the part, or the part seemed to sit into him.
One night I was lucky to wander into the Gaiety and see Jack McGowran do his one-man Beginning to End. Funny, seemingly effortless, the native Dublin cadences that Beckett had knitted into something profound, poetic, provocative, and funny. Here was high flung philosophy from low lying mouths. Here were dilemmas of birth, death, and the in-between, condensed, crystallised, and comic. Here were us humans tying ourselves in knots with words.
And here was silence. And the man who dared to ask, what happens when your questions are left hanging in the void?
“There’s no end to the learning”
By the time I moved from Cork to Dublin, after I graduated from Art School, I can only remember having seen two plays – The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds with a student Fiona Shaw, and a stultifying production of Joyce’s Embers that almost doused my budding interest in theatre.
Without any knowledge, experience and precious little talent I managed to be cast by an education theatre company touring to schools. In Sligo we crossed paths with the Irish Theatre Company on their final tour with a production of Waiting for Godot. It was the first Beckett I’d seen and I was of course blown away – but also I realised just how little I knew and how much there was to learn.
And here I am hundreds of years later performing in my first Beckett and realising there’s no end to the learning.
“I find him hilariously funny”
As a theatre-goer I first encountered Beckett when I was a student in Dublin. I saw Waiting For Godot at a student drama festival and loved it immediately. My first Beckett on the other side of the footlights was a few years ago at Liverpool Playhouse, wedged in a dustbin with my feet poking out the back hidden under rubble, playing Nagg in Endgame, which starred Matthew Kelly and his son.
I find Beckett funny – hilariously funny. Very dark, but so, so funny.
See All That Fall at the Enniskillen Happy Days Festival, 22 July – 2 August 2015