I attended a panel discussion at the Barbican entitled Honouring Intentions: The Director and Beckett. I love Beckett but he is definitely one of those playwrights I need a little help to understand. I hoped that the discussion would help shed new light on the staging of Beckett’s work, including the tension between his restrictive stage directions and the directorial desire to change and explore new things.
The panel included Dr Derval Tubridy (Goldsmiths, University of London) as well as the directors Sarah-Jane Scaife (Company SJ), Walter Asmus, and Gavin Quinn (Pan Pan Theatre). I was particularly interested in what Walter Asmus had to say. In slow, considered speech he recounted how he first met Beckett at 10 am on the 27th of December 1974, worked with him in (then) West Berlin, and assisted him in the direction of Waiting for Godot. He talked of how Beckett was very specific with respect to the staging of his work, directing his texts like a conductor and doing the blocking himself, walking around the stage counting his steps. I could have listened to his anecdotes all day; he was fascinating, alluding to how he and Beckett “put up with” each other.
Sarah-Jane Scaife was also fascinating as she spoke of how her work, which has taken her all over the world, has shown how it is important to take into account the space where the work is being performed. For instance, she found that Beckett seemed to work particularly well in Georgia; less so in Mongolia. Gavin Quinn spoke about the role of mathematics in the plays, and the importance of timing.
The questions at the end brought up some interesting points, including Beckett’s influence on future playwrights like Enda Walsh, and modern theatre practices like the monologue. Overall I found the discussion fascinating and I feel it helped me develop a greater understanding of Beckett and his work.