Beckett on Screen – Television Pieces

As part of the International Beckett Season I popped along to the Barbican to attend a screening of some of the pieces Samuel Beckett wrote for television. Created specially for this medium, they struck me as being quite static – not a criticism, but an observation – making them more suited to the screen rather than the stage.

Eh Joe stars Jack McGowran, shut in a room while the voice of a woman he once loved (Sian Phillips) affects him deeply. As the camera draws ever closer to the actor’s face, the intensity of his emotions become even more apparent. This short piece was directed by Alan Gibson and was released in 1966.

Directed by Donald McWhinnie and Anthony Page, the 1977 Ghost Trio (named after Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Trio which can be heard in the piece) is similarly haunting, with repetitive movements and a lonely atmosphere.

…but the clouds…, created at the same time, is a meditation on absence featuring Ronald Pickup and Billie Whitelaw, who mouths words from The Tower, a poem by Yeats that inspired the title.

Finally, Beginning to End, directed by Chloe Gibson in 1966, stars Jack McGowran who dramatises various Beckett prose works.

Taken together, the pieces were powerful and thought-provoking, though I think I’d have to think and read about them a fair bit more to really understand them.





Not I

Samuel Beckett’s Not I is one of the strangest theatrical experiences it is possible to have. A short monologue – commonly less than ten minutes in length – delivered by a disembodied mouth, the only visible element in a pitch black auditorium. Forty years after the UK premiere at the Royal Court Theatre, it has returned to the same place and is even faster – eight minutes and forty-one seconds on the night I saw it.

Actress Lisa Dwan performs the piece and is absolutely superb in possibly the most demanding role available in theatre. Witnessing the monologue is a surreal experience: it is possible – only just – to hear the words but not to process them on any kind of intellectual level. During the performance, I lost all sense of time.

Beckett himself apparently wanted the piece spoken at the speed of thought, and this performance is about as close as you can get. I wonder, though, if something is lost because it is spoken so quickly: some of the words were unintelligible.

After the performance there was a selection of video clips showing Billie Whitelaw, who performed the piece forty years ago, talking about her experiences. This was followed by a panel discussion involving Lisa Dwan, the artistic director of the Royal Court and Roger Michell, a director who worked with Beckett at the Royal Court years ago. The discussion was entertaining and thought-provoking, and ended on a great line – when asked how the role will affect her in the future, Dwan replied, “Well, it’ll be hard to go back to telly”.