Inviting you on a hypnotic journey into the musical mind of Samuel Beckett

Judy Hegarty Lovett of Gare St Lazare tells Marjorie Brennan about the Corkonian company’s journey into the musical mind of Samuel Beckett.

Fans of Samuel Beckett have been spoiled for choice in the last few months, with Gare St Lazare Players’ adaptation of the author’s novel How It Is (Part 1) receiving rave reviews and Druid’s touring production of Waiting for Godot also drawing the crowds.

With barely time to draw breath, Gare St Lazare are back touring with Here All Night, described as a hypnotic journey into the musical mind of Beckett.

The show is an original collaboration fusing theatre, music and visual art, and features actor and Gare St Lazare founder Conor Lovett, musician Caoimhín O’Raghallaigh, soprano Melanie Pappenheim, and a stage set by artist Brian O’Doherty (formerly Patrick Ireland).

The show receives its Irish premiere at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin tomorrow, and will also tour to various venues, including the Everyman in Cork on Monday, April 23.

MB: You must have been happy with the response to How It Is?

JHL: We were thrilled, because it’s an unusual piece, so we weren’t quite sure how it would be received — but it was really well-received and the audience seemed to really appreciate it.

Stephen Dillane [Game of Thrones, etc] seemed to really enjoy the experience too…

Big time, and he’s on board with us for the next few years; we intend to make parts two and three over the next three years. Both Stephen and Mel [Mercier, sound designer] are with us for that. They are both very committed, which is brilliant.

There has been no shortage of Beckett productions for Irish audiences to enjoy recently. Why do you think his work is still so popular?

I think he transcends time. I’d say people will still be going to see Beckett for many years to come, which is testament to this writing and to his international reach. His work is not specific to any place or time, it really speaks to a bigger audience, worldwide, and we really have found that out in concrete terms by touring internationally over the last 20 years — in India, South Africa, China, Australia, America. We know his work is as appreciated there as it is at home. Beckett speaks to all people and for all times.

Tell us about Here All Night, how did the concept come about?

We’ve been working on it over many years — its first outing was 2011 at the Brighton Festival. It began when Paul Clark [composer] did the music when RTÉ asked us to do all Beckett’s radio plays in 2006 as part of the centenary celebrations. Paul, myself, Conor and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh have been on board from the start. At that time we discussed the music references across Beckett’s writings, saying it would be great to put those together and to make an event out if it.

We’ve had to develop it as we’ve gone along, we never gave it one solid rehearsal, and in a way it’s benefitted from that because over the years we’ve watched it play in various venues, seen what it needs and brought in the necessary additions. Rather than imposing something from the beginning, we watched and learned from it.

It is very much a collaborative project, which reflects Gare St Lazare’s ethos in general…

Our newest addition is John Scott who we brought in to do choreography. We also have our choir of six women, who are all travelling from Boston and New York — they are fantastic collaborators and very skilled singers. It sounds fantastic and it’s a brilliant piece of work.

We are also collaborating with Brian O’Doherty; there’s a big focus on his work in Cork and at the Sirius Arts Centre in April, so we’re thrilled to coincide with that celebration. We have one of his installations as part of our set, which is a wonderful addition to the work, it gives a central focus and also is cross- disciplinary, it’s a first time for us handling an artwork, which is very different from using a set.

What you have are very tight, strong collaborations of people who are at the top of their game, who have worked very hard at their own craft and all have a special relationship with Beckett and his writing.

Were you apprehensive about the musical aspect, given issues in the past about using music in Beckett’s work?

We have a very good relationship with the estate, that has been over a 20-year period. We see them as collaborators as well. From the beginning, when we were rehearsing Here All Night at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, the flagship arts centre for Ireland in Europe, we invited Edward Beckett [nephew of Samuel], so he saw what we were doing. He gave the project the green light from the very beginning. When we played the Print Room in London, Edward saw the work there and, as a musician himself, I think genuinely appreciated the standard of music that was apparent in the work.

How much do we know about Beckett and his musical tastes?

He genuinely loved music. He also struggled with the idea of how to bring together text and music. He speaks about it in his play, Words And Music, and that’s something we address in the piece itself. From reading biography and his letters, we know he appreciated Schubert greatly and he was a fairly accomplished piano player. There was also music in the family — Edward was a professional flautist and John Beckett, another relation, was also a musician. I believe Suzanne, his wife, was also a very accomplished piano player. We know he would have attended many concerts and was very tuned into classical music and what was happening in Paris while he lived there. Based on the letters he was going to three concerts a week at least.

You mentioned the collaboration with artist Brian O’Doherty for this production, how did that come about?

I saw Brian’s piece ‘Hello, Sam Redux’ in the National Gallery in Dublin in 2011 and it just struck me as a really fun piece but also a very profound and brilliantly realised piece of work. We’d begun Here All Night around that time, but it was only two or three years later that I thought, ‘you know what, I really want to go back to that piece’. Brian lives in New York and it was fairly difficult to track him down but I eventually contacted him. It has been a very interesting and warm relationship.

There’s a real sense of responsibility in being given such a work….

Yes, an artwork is a completely different animal altogether, you have to handle it — literally — with white gloves. It’s quite a learning process for us, but like I say, Brian has been really generous. Following that phone call I said I wouldn’t like him to commit to anything without seeing the piece, so it happened we were playing at the Lincoln Centre in New York a few weeks after that conversation, so I could invite him along. He came, saw the work and said we could do what we wanted with the piece, he would be delighted for it to be part of what we were doing.

What do you think audiences will get from the show, especially if they haven’t seen Beckett’s work before?

For an audience that might be alienated by very heavy or loaded texts, this is a much lighter way to reach his writing. You get artwork, music, literature, and theatre, so we’re meeting a lot of different interests and tastes. Because of the collaboration and cross-discipline, it’s a real treat.

Here All Night is at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin from Apr 11-14 and Everyman Theatre, Cork, Apr 23.

Other dates: garestlazareireland.com


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