Samuel Beckett’s Quad and Nacht und Träume

I’ve been watching a couple of television plays by Samuel Beckett, Quad and Nacht und Träume. Quad was written, first produced and broadcast in 1981. It is a really strange production, which involves four cloaked individuals moving around a square in an odd formation. The piece is performed twice, the second piece in black and white and without music.

Nacht und Träume (Night and Dreams) was the last television play written and directed by Samuel Beckett. It was written and recorded in 1982, with the mime artist Helfrid Foron playing both parts. It is a strange, haunting play, wordless, with the only sound that of a male voice humming, then singing, Schubert’s Nacht und Träume. The composer was one of Beckett’s favourites.


Samuel Beckett’s Rough for Radio I and II

I’ve been listening to a lot of Beckett recently, including his radio plays. Rough for Radio I is the only Beckett radio play that was never produced by the BBC. Originally written in French in 1961, Beckett translated it into English, publishing it in Stereo Headphones magazine in 1976 as Sketch for Radio Play. It never had a BBC production, and has never been produced in Britain. I came across a live recording on YouTube, performed by A Somber Threat Theatre Ensemble at The Zeitgeist Gallery, Cambridge, MA (USA) during the late 1990’s.

It took me longer to track down Rough for Radio II, also known as Rough for Radio, or by the original French title Pochade Radiophonique. This is a bizarre piece in which two figures, the Animator and Stenographer, interrogate a  prisoner, Fox. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this one, or the other piece. I think a few more listens are in order.

Samuel Beckett’s “Film”

Samuel Beckett’s only screenplay, Film, was written in 1963 and filmed in New York the following year. I watched it online at UbuWeb. Beckett originally wanted Charlie Chaplin to play the lead (referred to only as “O”) but this didn’t work out, and the role eventually went to Buster Keaton.

The film differed slightly from the script as written, but it was approved by Beckett as he was on set at the time. I read the script as part of my edition of his Collected Works, but this was the first time I had seen it on screen.

The film explores one man’s bid to escape from an all-seeing eye – perhaps meant to represent the camera itself. It is almost totally silent, and is a rather eerie experience. It’s short, but memorable: simple on the surface, but I’m sure it would repay careful study.

Samuel Beckett’s Radio Plays: All That Fall / Embers / Words and Music / Cascando / The Old Tune

I’ve been exploring the work of Samuel Beckett recently, and came across some of his radio plays available online at

All That Fall (1957)

I was familiar with this one already via the staged production starring Eileen Atkins which I saw in 2012. I found it very moving; I did prefer the stage production as I like to be able to see things – I find it difficult to just sit and listen. All That Fall is the tale of an Irish housewife on the way to meet her blind husband off the train, and the people she meets along the way. In some ways it’s a very ordinary tale; in others it is extraordinary, with superbly Beckettian language and a great deal of pathos.

Embers (1959)

Embers is a monologue in which the sound of the sea features heavily. We are left wondering if the narrator, Henry, is really by the sea or if the events we are overhearing are happening inside his head. This is a lonely and powerful piece and the radio format really suits it.

Words and Music (1962)

I found two versions of this one. The YouTube link above, with Morton Feldman, is twice as long, possibly because of the extra music. The other, recorded by Theater For Your Mother in 1979, can be found on UbuWeb. It’s a very odd piece, made up of lots of strange noises in among the words (Joe – Joseph J. Casalini) and the music (Bob – Leslie Dalaba, Wayne Horvitz, Mark E. Miller, Frank Collison), which seemed like blues music to me.

Cascando (1963)

This is another piece recorded by Theater For Your Mother using the same cast; you can access it on UbuWeb. Again it is really odd, with an exuberant voice and trumpets playing.


The Old Tune (1960)

The Old Tune is a bit different: it is a free translation of La Manivelle (The Crank) by Robert Pinget, a 1960 play that Beckett transposed to Ireland from France, turning Pinget’s Parisians into Dubliners. Jack MacGowran (Cream) and Patrick Magee (Gorman) star in this BBC recording from 1960, directed by Barbara Bray. It’s a poignant, often humorous piece that once again reveals Beckett’s flair for language.

If you’re a Beckett fan it’s definitely worth seeking out these works: they’re all different, entertaining and enlightening.


Krapp’s Last Tape

After seeing a rather avant-garde interpretation of Krapp’s Last Tape at the Barbican a few months ago, I was looking forward to a more “traditional” production at the Broadway Theatre in Barking. Beckett’s play was originally written for the Irish actor Patrick Magee, produced at the Royal Court in 1958. This production is directed by Fiona Baddeley and stars Tom Owen as Krapp.

The play explores Krapp, an elderly gentleman, as he listens to tape recordings of his past self while he prepares to complete another recording. The performance is intimate, funny and tragic, as Krapp muses on his past as he sits alone at his desk. Ultimately I did prefer this more subdued performance to the one which took place in the cavernous Barbican.

Krapp’s Last Tape

Krapp’s Last Tape was the last production I saw as part of the International Beckett Season at the Barbican. The play is about an old man who has, for years, been making recordings each year of his life, summing up the months gone by. Each year he listens to previous tapes: we see him, as a 69 year old, listen to a tape of him as a 39 year old, who refers to his younger self disparagingly, much as the elderly Krapp now views the middle-aged Krapp. The premise is poignant, and the play makes use of typically Beckettian themes like loneliness and loss.

I don’t have any previous productions to compare this one to, but I gather that it is very different from usual. Robert Wilson is an American actor who plays up the avant-garde and this production is staged in a stark basement room, with Wilson, white-faced like a clown, reacting to the tapes in an over the top and cartoonish manner, as if to emphasise the horror of old age.

Beginning with a long silence, during which Wilson moves around the stage, moving boxes of tape, and rain patters onto his windows, the production is certainly an unusual one, and I found that the abstract approach made it hard for me to warm to the character. Perhaps this was the intention? It was certainly different, and memorable, but I think I would rather see a more traditional production before I make my mind up about this play.




Rough For Theatre I, Act Without Words II

As part of the International Beckett Season at the Barbican, I attended a production of two of Samuel Beckett’s shorter works, performed outside in the courtyard and beside the church. Short they might be, but they certainly pack a punch. After having seen Act Without Words I and Rough For Theatre II at the Old Red Lion Theatre a couple of months back, it was with a feeling of satisfaction that I arrived at the Barbican to attend this performance of Rough For Theatre I and Act Without Words II.

Rough For Theatre I, the first piece to be performed, perfectly suited the outdoor setting. Two tramps, A who cannot walk and B who is blind, argue and bicker with one another while also revealing a mutual dependence – similar in some respects to Waiting For Godot. The second piece, Act Without Words II, saw two men take it in turns to emerge from their sleeping bags, dress and begin the day before undressing and turning in once again. It sounds trivial, but it brings home the things you do every day of your life without thinking about them.

The Company SJ production, directed by Sarah Jane Scaife, is strong, linking the two pieces together in meaningful ways. These short but powerful pieces are well worth seeing.