Beckett x3 – Everyman Palace, Cork.
Monday 11th 2013.
I generally don’t enjoy writing reviews as I invariably find it difficult to criticise any production having known the arduous process of staging a dramatic work all too well myself. The exchange between Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting For Godot often comes bubbling up in my mind.
VLADAMIR: Sewer Rat!
ESTRAGON [With finality.] : Crritic! (70)
However with the recent Richard Ryan Promotions production of three short Beckett plays at the Everyman, I felt the not only the need to attend but equally to share some of my observations.
Immediately upon becoming aware of the three plays on offer I had some nagging doubts. The production begins with Eh Joe, then The Old Tune before concluding with Footfalls. The choice of one play written for television and another written for radio caused me concern from the outset. I have always believed that Beckett was a writer who understood his own material better than anyone else. If he wrote a piece for one medium I am always very cautious when it is subsequently moved into another.
Eh Joe, subtitled a piece for television, was written in 1965 and first broadcast on BBC2 in 1966. Essentially it involves the eponymous Joe sitting on his bed in a bare room as a recording of a woman’s voice is played detailing ideas and episodes from Joe’s past. In the television play the camera moves in for a tighter and tighter close up as the narrative builds to a climax. This is the first problem with the stage version. Of course there is no way for the audience to get a closer and closer view of Joe’s face. From where I was sitting, by no means at the back of the theatre, it was difficult to see the actor’s face at all. Instead we are presented with a man, played by Peter Pacey, sitting on a bed seemingly doing nothing for twenty minutes. While the voice over was ably performed by Collette Kelly, the intense intimacy of the television version is lost. I would suggest that the transfer to stage is a failure, purely due to the material not being suitable for the chosen medium.
Eh Joe as intended by the writer.
The second piece presented, The Old Tune, again for a variety of reasons had me worried before the first line was even uttered. This piece is unusual within the Beckett canon as having originated as a ‘free’ translation of a French play La Manivelle by Robert Pinget. Originally written for radio in 1963 again here the medium is changed from the original. However in this case Peter Pacey as Cream and Oengus MacNamara as Gorman make a valiant attempt at this reinterpretation. The play involving two old army acquaintances revolves around a single gag of their memories of the past being incredibly flawed and this joke is played out again and again. The audience enjoyed the piece and it is funny up to a point. However I would suggest that the problem here is not with the performance but with the source material. I do not consider this to be an important piece of Beckett writing and indeed considering the fact that it is a translation from another writer’s work, however free, I wonder should it even be considered Beckett’s work at all. Greater scholars than I will probably have more informed opinions on that score.
In contrast I believe the third play offered, Footfalls, to be one of Beckett’s most important late works. It is a piece which I have seen on several occasions before and have conducted a certain level of study on. Again I approached this production with trepidation. Beckett’s dramatic work is difficult to get right and much easier to get wrong. Billie Whitelaw speaking of being directed by Beckett in Footfalls stated;
We spent hours on the walking up and down, and hours getting the relationship of the arm and the hand and the bringing down of the hand from the throat and how far this should go to the elbow. (170)
In this effort Colette Kelly manages to carry off the essence of Beckett’s vision. The pacing and rhythm, so important in all Beckett but most particularly in Footfalls, is very good. While not flawless (how could it be?) it was a very engaging performance of this important play.
Footfalls from the Beckett On Film Project
At the post production discussion I queried the choice of plays, receiving the answer that these were some of the few short plays the company had not performed before. It was suggested that Eh Joe was essentially a short story that Beckett had produced as a television play because the opportunity presented itself. I’m not so sure about this. The Old Tune was included to bring a sense of levity to the production and I can see how this would be a concern for a general theatre audience. No such change of mood of course was required for my tastes. Colette Kelly stated she thought she’d get more laughs for Footfalls which frankly baffles me. It is not a humorous play on any level. The common theme of memory was also suggested, however that can be applied to almost any of Becket’s works particularly from his mid period on; why not Rockaby, Ohio Impromptu, Not I or Play.
While overall a worthwhile evening of theatre for a general audience I feel for more devoted Beckett fans the choice of plays hampered it from the start. The chance to see Beckett performed at all is not as common as I would like so on that level it was a pleasure to see them performed. Next time perhaps they should stick to those works designed for the stage by the playwright himself. I would suggest the results would be more rewarding.
Beckett on Film – Footfalls. Youtube.com. 24 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
Beckett, Samuel. The Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber & Faber, 1990. Print.
Samuel Beckett – Eh Joe (Part 1). Youtube.com. 6 Feb. 2009. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
Whitelaw, Billie. Interview. Beckett Remembering : Remembering Beckett. James and Elizabeth Knowlson Ed. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2007. Print.