Samuel Beckett’s Not I
Samuel Beckett has written some great plays. In Not I he wrote a play where only the mouth is shown. The great actor Billie Whitelaw did it in 1973 and you can see the remarkable result by clicking on the image of Billie Whitelaw.
When Lisa Dwan performed it in 2006 she met Billie Whitelaw shortly afterwards and they compared notes.
“We immediately swapped our trench stories. I told her how I strap my head into the banisters at home and babble away for hours training my mouth and diaphragm to speak at the speed of thought without moving a millimetre.
Billie’s head by contrast had been strapped to a dentist’s chair, where once during rehearsals she collapsed and Sam (Beckett) rushed over to her saying ‘Billie, Billie! What have I done to you? What have I done?…. and coming to she replied, ‘I really don’t know how to answer that Sam.’
We agreed that the hardest element of all – aside of course from the neck strain, the hernias, the stroke inducing stress of it and the development of pelican like jowls for spit collection as there is no time to swallow – is attempting to control and suppress one’s own internal Not I. In the nightly terror that the piece always produces – the thoughts like vultures hover above the lean lines.”
There are solutions out there that can help actors rest/recover from giving such strenuous performances nightly. Something other than work outs, massage and acupuncture, vodka and the rest. Some paint or draw , others meditate. The relentless run of a play can drain the strongest.
The Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Waiting For Godot is one of the best I’ve seen. Certainly the most moving. The acting is superb and the whole production is a bonded work of art.
In Waiting For Godot, Samuel Beckett, as one of the greatest playwrights ever, brings us closer to knowing and understanding why we don’t know and why we don’t understand the human condition. Perhaps because the director Andrew Upton, doesn’t try to convey the suffering and cruelty, this production isn’t easy to watch. The suffering emerges heedlessly from the action and the words. There is great comfort in the humour and the compassion and the laughable effort to enforce or accept some kind of order of worthiness and to pass the time. In the end out of all the greyness, you are left with the the knowledge that both Estragon and Vladimir have experienced happiness once more.
Lyn Gardner of the Telegraph says the production lacks intimacy. The intimacy is portrayed so we can stand outside of it – it’s a surreal play.
The voices are strong – if this were a realistic play the voices would reveal fear and weakness. It’s a surreal play. The play may be directed in a different way in a different theatre – even in a small venue you would still feel the aloneness of each of the characters.
Japan: Earth’s Enchanted Islands is an eagerly awaited documentary series produced by BBC Bristol. The first episode covering the truly magical island of Honshu unfolds in wonderful golden sunshine, but there’s a voice in the background that sounds as though it’s reading from a script. Even worse there is the stressing of descriptive words that mask the narrative story and hide a voice that’s too weak to be expressive without effort, “he’s not on his own up here”, “one for the more refined.” There is the slight creak on the longer downward inflexion. It can’t be but it is – Lady Mary Crawley or the actress that plays her splendidly in Downton Abbey – Michelle Dockery is narrating Japan: Earth’s Enchanted Islands. It would be irrelevant and you can get used to it, except that the narration sounds “apart” from the visuals as though the person narrating is detached from the film’s content. There is some indication that they’re unsure of their speech and perhaps because of this sometimes their delivery is formulaic to the point of sterility and can detract from our enjoyment of the film. Michelle Dockery would be great reading any number of novels but wouldn’t a more connected voice have been better for this film? There are some beautiful Japanese voices out there that can deliver well in spoken English.
Everyman at the National Theatre, South Bank, London
The start of a new era – this is what watching Everyman at the Lyttleton Theatre feels like. Everyman, the medieval morality play, first stirred the collective unconscious mind of people in the early 1400s. Arguably the start of theatre as we know it today, it was directly influenced by the theatre of church ritual. When I first took part in Everyman, playing Knowledge, it was a very organised affair in the gardens of Southwell cathedral. Shocking to some onlookers – as the play describes the debauchery of Everyman. In this production, the new wave of 1975 influenced fashion and design shines bright. Rufus Norris directs – this is his first production as Director of the National. Carol Ann Duffy, the writer is the Poet Laureate and Creative Director of the Manchester Metropolitan University Writing School. In the Everyman story, death comes to take Everyman abruptly, in the prime of his life and he’s forced to make a reckoning before God. Carol Ann Duffy takes the theme of ecocide for this production – all of us adversely altering our planet and climate.
“How all mankind grows worse from year to year..
The angels weep to see the ruin of the Earth:
the gathered waters, which I called the Seas,
unclean, choking on themselves.
The dry land – fractured, fracked.”
The production is not tight – you are aware of life being wasted amid splurges of decadence, spending, debauchery and the pathetic desperation of Everyman to survive. The motley crew of actors are suitably scattered and sometimes out of sync. God is not shown as a bright angelic saviour of forgiveness. God is on stage sweeping up before the play opens with a party to celebrate Everyman’s fortieth. Funny, witty and playful against the underlying core of hopelessness, the tenuous desire that Everyman might be forgiven and survive death, is not granted. Death played laconically by Dermot Crowley – claims Everyman.
The audience stood and cheered – it’s a hell of a play to watch and Chiwetel Ejiofor is tremendous as Everyman.