2.5.11

Working with Samuel Beckett

Billie Whitelaw, Jean Martin and others share their memories of the renowned modern playwright

I'll never cease to be amazed by the wealth of material freely available on Youtube. Yesterday afternoon I chanced upon the above clip, a nine-minute excerpt from a documentary where a number of Samuel Beckett's friends and colleagues are interviewed.

Samuel Beckett with the original cast of En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot)
The first, lengthy part of the clip begins with Jean Martin, who played Lucky in the original French production of Waiting for Godot. Martin, who is no longer with us, shares his astonishment and enthusiasm for the role, while giving insight into some elements of his performance.

Production designer Jocelyn Herbert is next, discussing nights out with Beckett, friends and colleagues. A number of their favourite haunts are mentioned, accompanied by images of the locations filmed at the time the documentary was made: the Rosebud bar, Iles Marquises, Les Closerie des Lilas, and the Falstaff. Herbert recalls being joined by Eugene Ionesco on one such night, when the group planned to see a play together; Beckett, who did not go to the theatre very often, instead 'went out for a walk and then came back'.

Samuel Beckett rehearses Willie in a London production of Happy Days
Photograph: Jack Raby
Billie Whitelaw shares her experiences working with Beckett as a director, on plays such as Not I and Happy Days in London. On Not I, she recalls meeting in the rehearsal space each morning and launching 'straight in without a word'. She recalls it was like 'working with not only a writer and a director, but working with a painter, and a sculptor, and a musician, and a conductor'. Whitelaw gives an impression of Beckett as a meticulous and conscientious figure.

Samuel Beckett plays out Willie's ascent of the mound in Happy Days
Photograph: Jack Raby
One of the most notable moments of the clip comes from an interview with Jack Raby, one of the crew responsible for stage lighting on Happy Days. Raby cites, with amusement, an anecdote where, during a quiet lunchbreak, Beckett began rehearsing Willie's movements on the mount for his own clarification. Raby was quick with his camera, and his covert photography is included with the interview.

Samuel Beckett plays out Willie's ascent of the mound in Happy Days
Photograph: Jack Raby
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