A novel approach to Beckett

A novel approach to Beckett
Stephen Dillane and Conor Lovett star in How It Is (Part 2) at the Everyman in Cork next week; inset, director Judy Hegarty Lovett. Picture: Darragh Kane.

The Cork couple behind Gare St Lazare are back with a second instalment of their widely-praised take on the strange and wonderful ‘How It Is’, writes Marjorie Brennan.

Judy Hegarty Lovett leans forward from her chair in the bar of Cork’s Everyman Theatre, and looms right over my dictaphone.

“It is a novel, and we are doing it in its entirety,” she says, enunciating the final word emphatically. Her husband Conor Lovett laughs,saying “I’m sure she did that the last time, too.”

The ‘last time’ was when the couple, artistic directors of Gare St Lazare Players, were in rehearsals for How It Is (Part 1), their adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s novel. And here we are again in the Everyman as they prepare to stage Part 2 of their ambitious three-part production.

While Hegarty Lovett is at pains to stress their completist approach to the work, Gare St Lazare’s trackrecord for thoroughness speaks for itself. In the last two decades, the Cork couple have become the foremost interpreters and performers of Beckett.

How It Is is one of Beckett’s lesser-known works, an unpunctuated novel featuring a ‘narrator’ engulfed in mud, pondering life before, with and after ‘Pim’. Part 1 received its world premiere at the Everyman, and the reviews were rapturous, something the couple had not taken for granted despite their previous successes.

“We were absolutely thrilled, because we really had no idea how it was going to unfold,” says Hegarty Lovett.

We’ve been presenting Beckett for the last 20-plus years and we’ve always got a very good response to the work.

"However, we knew that this was a richer piece of work, but less known, even less read and certainly never staged before.”

TEAM EFFORT

As with the initial instalment, Part 2 is directed by Hegarty Lovett and stars Conor Lovett and English actor Stephen Dillane, known for a slew of roles in film and prestige television programmes, including The Crown, The Tunnel and Game of Thrones.Artistic collaboration is a central tenet of Gare St Lazare’s approach and the couple are full of praise for Dillane’s unwavering commitment to the project.

“Anyone at the stage of their career that he is at, to commit the amount of time he has to a project like this is fairly incredible,” says Lovett.

“He is 100% in there, and he seems to be really enjoying himself, which is fantastic to see. And of course, he’s Limerick stock originally, and very aware of that, and I guess that is operating on some level as well. He is a really gifted,experienced and knowledgeable actor.”

Gare St Lazare have been working on How It Is since 2015, and the plan is to stage Part 3 next year, followed by a complete performance of all three parts in 2021.

“By the end of it, we will have spent the best part of six years with it as a complete piece,” says Hegarty Lovett.

“Yes, it’s a long time to spend on a single work but it has been a pleasure. It’s deserving of that kind of time and attention because it is so rich and there is so much to uncover,” says Hegarty Lovett.

Adds Lovett: “And, you have to create that time, no one is offering it to you. Over the years — and Judy saw this very early on — we learned that giving time to productions, they’re just the richer for it.

Everyone has more engagement, more investment with it. And you get more out of it. And it gets more out of us,I think.

While the over familiarity that comes with most relationships of two decades might be akin to the comfort of a pair of well-worn slippers, the couple’s passion for Beckett shows no signs of waning, and if anything, has morphed into something even deeper and more exciting.

“I suppose we’re at a point in our own careers, where we want to dig deeper, and spend more valuable and enriching time with the writing.

"And this work actually needs that kind of time and dedication. Because it’s a masterpiece, a huge piece of work, and certainly not one to rush.”

NEW LEVEL

Mel Mercier’s stunning soundscape, and Kris Stone’s lighting design brought the production of How It Is (Part 1) to a whole other level, elevating it from the mud in which the actors are mired to spectral, almost spiritual, heights.

This time around, the visual and aural aspects are equally important; music will be a central element [see panel] and there will also be an inventive twist to the staging that is sure to enchant audiences.

“The Everyman have been hugely supportive, especially in the way they have offered us their space to explore in the way that we have,” says Hegarty Lovett.

“Hopefully the design will encourage people to come to the show, and also to discover that text, whatever it takes to get people to come and meet Beckett.”

That captures the philosophy of Gare St Lazare in a nutshell — an open invitation to meet Beckett; for while his work has often been characterised as impenetrable or difficult, for the couple, it is anything but.

“All his work really seems to operate on that face value level of ‘look at this’ — Godot is a great example. You can also go in as deep as you like, and you can never get to the end. I’ve often thought people bring their own stuff to it,” says Lovett.

I don’t doubt that he constructed it in such a way that he brought all his vast breadth of knowledge to any given thing, he couldn’t help himself, it seems. And yet, he did it in such a way that he never closes it down.

"From time to time, we come across academics and scholars, and some of them are saying, ‘I think I have it, I think I know what it’s about now’. And even if they do, somebody else who will never get to read their thesis is still going to get on fine with it.”

Adds Hegarty Lovett: “To quote the man himself, as Vladimir says in Godot: ‘All mankind is us, whether we like it or not.’”

When I wonder if Beckett is especially relevant for the dystopicvision of the world we are presented with on a daily basis, Hegarty Lovett is having none of it.

“I don’t get this thing of ‘we live in strange times’. I think we have always been in strange times….I’m not into this ‘does it speak to today or is it relevant to today?’ Beckett is relevant to all people at all times —the question of existence, and why are we here, or why are we not here.

"Those questions will probably always be there. Even if they’re smothered, or denied, I think they still exist deeply as questions that belong to humanity. I think Beckett yesterday, Beckett today, Beckett tomorrow, Beckett always.”

How It Is (Part 2) is at the Everyman Theatre, Cork, from Tues, Sept 3 to Sat, Sept 7, 7.30pm. everymancork.com

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