My first Beckett
9th Feb 2016
Out of Joint is presenting a rare live production of Samuel Beckett’s radio play All That Fall, in which theatre-goers will be blindfolded, the actors moving about the auditorium. One of Beckett’s most naturalistic plays, it is inspired by his native Foxrock in Ireland.
We asked cast members about their first experience of Beckett.
“Waiting for Godot was my template for a great play”
I studied “En attendant Godot as part of my French degree course at Queen’s University. It was revelatory! For years, waiting for Godot was my template for a great play and since the beginning of my adventures in acting I’d hoped to be part of a Beckett production. I am delighted now to find myself in that world which was first revealed to me all those years ago in Belfast.
“I realised I didn’t need to ‘get’ it. In watching his plays you have all you need”
If I’m being honest, my initial feeling toward Beckett was trepidation. A deeply lined, stern face floating in the darkness, staring out at you. My first encounters with his works was through reading it, and this lead to a feeling of needing to ‘get it’. ‘What does it mean?’. Undoubtedly a hangover from an education where poetry and drama is dissected into its component parts, each weighed and measured, then shoved back together, more often than not leaving one with a feeling of ‘I didn’t like that’.
Then in my first year of university I went to see a production of Waiting for Godot at The Gate Theatre in Dublin. I left the theatre, making my way down O’Connell Street toward my bus, and I wouldn’t go so far as to say my world was shattered or anything, but it was ever so slightly tilted on its axis. I was confused and satisfied, and realised I didn’t need to ‘get’ a thing. In watching (or listening to) his plays you have all you need. You may of course dissect it if you wish but I think it’s more enjoyable to walk along with the world at an ever so slightly strange angle.
“I’d love to have gone for a drink with him”
I studied English and French at university, so Beckett and his influence began to creep into my consciousness then. I read Waiting for Godot during that time and wished desperately to see it in a theatre. To this day, I haven’t managed it yet. I can’t wait.
Once I became an actor, I’d bump into Beckett periodically. Not in real life, of course – although I’d love to have gone for a drink with him, who wouldn’t? – but it’s impossible to live and work in Ireland and not be aware of his reach, even outside the theatre. I’d read him sometimes and read about him more. His life is as fascinating as his work.
As much of my own work has centred on comedy and satire, one of my favourite aspects of Beckett, and All That Fall in particular, is the humour. He can be so darkly funny. The world in All That Fall sits not too far from the world of one of Ireland’s greatest satirists, Flann O’Brien – which might surprise some. I’ve never performed in Beckett before and I couldn’t be more thrilled for this to be my first.
“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.
“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.
Hear All That Fall at Bristol Old Vic (8-12 Mar 2016) and Wilton’s Music Hall in London (22 Mar – 8 Apr 2016).