Welcome to another feature supporting the unofficial Beckett in London season across London.
“A disembodied mouth suspended in mid-air spews out dialogue at a ferocious pace … an autocratic director and his assistant put the finishing touches to their final scene … a woman recounts her past, driven by the motion of her rocking chair …”
The Jack Studio in Brockley is staging Not I, Catastrophe, and Rockaby by Samuel Beckett between 25 February and 7 March. The plays are produced by the Angel Theatre Company and directed by John Patterson.
I asked John to answer some questions on this important triple revival.
1. I’m pleased to see the Angel Theatre Company return to the Jack Studio for a further run of short Beckett plays. Why did you choose to programme this particular three together?
JP: I chose these particular three for various reasons. The main link is that they are all written by Beckett of course. I really love all three and have wanted to stage them for some time.
I initially considered a third monologue in place of Catastrophe which would have been the obvious way to go, but thought it more interesting to put something different in between the two solos; a bit of light relief some might say!
I think the mix gives a varied programme and that they work well as a trio.
2. All three pose their own particular staging challenges, especially Not I. Has the space provided any specific challenges you have had to overcome?
JP: At first Beckett’s staging instructions seem quite simple…until you attempt to achieve them!!
For example, Not I is just a mouth in the darkness…until you try to isolate it pitch black, 8 foot in the air and light it with a single lantern! However, the challenges imposed by Beckett’s text and specific stage directions are what make my job as a director so interesting!
The intimacy of the space at The Jack Studio is ideal for staging Beckett which is one reason why we chose to return to the venue this year. I saw Not I when it was last on in the West End and, great as it was, the full impact of that iconic stage picture of the Mouth hovering in mid air was a bit lost on all but the first few rows of the stalls!
3. It seems that London is having something of an unofficial Beckett season this year, with the Old Vic’s double-bill, Jermyn Street’s triple bill, and productions at the Pleasance and Coronet as well as yours. Why do you think he still connects with contemporary audiences?
JP: I think it’s quite by accident that there is a Beckett resurgence in London this year but I’m jolly glad there is!
Getting the rights to produce a Beckett play is not easy and, following the success of Footfalls and Play last year, we were delighted to be given an opportunity to stage more of his works.
I think they resonate with audiences today because the themes contained in his writing are so timeless that it feels like you are watching a contemporary play even though they were written 30 – 70 years ago!
Beckett’s revolutionary approach to creating theatre was perhaps ahead of it’s time which is why they sit so comfortably in the 21st century, possibly more so than when he wrote them.
Having a popular actor such as Daniel Radcliffe appearing in Endgame at The Old Vic will hopefully attract a new generation to Beckett’s writing, one that may otherwise not have opted to see one of his plays!
4. Catastrophe has a silent character who still has a pivotal role to play as Protagonist. It is also a play which can be humorous, politically subversive or even moving. Do you look for a specific skill set when casting an actor for this type of role?
JP; Catastrophe is a little known masterpiece of a play! It’s politically charged (dedicated by Beckett to Vaclav Havel) but also has a great social relevance depending on ones interpretation! I also find it extremely funny in places!
Although a silent role, the Protagonist is the central focus for much of the piece and is as important as the speaking characters. When casting the part I looked for an actor with physical strength and stamina, great stage presence and a sense of vulnerability! One who could move an audience without the need for dialogue.
I decided quite early on that I wanted to give this role to a recent graduate, something I try to do in at least one production a year. Louis Fox is playing the Protagonist as he exuded all the qualities I was looking for in his audition.
5. Last year you tackled the complexities of Footfall and Play. Do you aim to stage other lesser-seen Beckett’s in the future?
JP: If the Beckett estate will let me, I’d like to direct all of his short and lesser known stage plays over the next few years!