Beckett is first love for intrepid theatre troupe

The Gare St Lazare Players bring their unique adaptations of the Nobel Laureate’s work to Cork for St Patrick’s weekend, says Colette Sheridan

SAMUEL Beckett’s prose will be performed by the Gare St Lazare Players as part of Let’s Talk About Sam, a series of events celebrating the life and work of Samuel Beckett during St Patrick’s weekend. The End and First Love will be staged at the Cork Opera House on Mar 16, and The Beckett Trilogy on Mar 17.

The shows are directed by Judy Hegarty-Lovett and performed by her husband, Conor Lovett, acclaimed theatrical interpreters of Beckett. The Cork-born couple, based in France, are Ireland’s most travelled theatre company. Since 1997, they have visited 80 cities in 25 countries, staging Beckett’s solo works.

The St Patrick’s weekend “is a great opportunity to celebrate Beckett,” says Lovett. “I’m sure there will be plenty of people looking to do something different, while, at the same time, experiencing something Irish that has integrity.”

The Lovetts never tire of staging Beckett. The End, a short story, is one of Lovett’s favourite pieces from Beckett’s oeuvre.

“You have this elderly man who has just been released from an institution of care and has to fend for himself. He’s essentially a down-and-out, just getting by. But he treats looking after himself as a task, just like any other role that a person might have. He deals with the challenges that present themselves. There’s great humour here, and, at the same time, great poignancy. But there’s no self-pity. It’s exciting to present this guy, who is quite charming and funny, on a very slippery slope, which could be a metaphor for any of us. We’re all doing what we do, but at the end of the day, we’re all going to the same place,” he says.

First Love, another short story, is about a man whose view of love “is not the traditional one. He just sees it as an interference. There’s nothing joyous about it. He moves in with a woman, probably totally selfishly, and contributes nothing more than his presence,” Lovett says.

The theatrical version of The Beckett Trilogy, extracts from the novels, Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable, is the show that cemented the reputation of the Gare St Lazare Players. “We first performed it in Kilkenny in 2001. I had been performing Molloy and it gave us a lot of confidence about what we were doing. The reaction to it was very strong. Altogether, we have ten Beckett solo pieces in our repertory and it’s what we’re most associated with.”

Molloy is about a homeless man going to visit his mother. He has a bicycle and crutches. Unable to find his mother’s house, he gets arrested “for resting the wrong way on his bike. Molloy is probably one of Beckett’s most comic pieces.”

While Molloy features many of the characteristics of a conventional novel, in Malone Dies there is little plot, with the story taking the form of an interior monologue.

“Malone is bedridden. He feels he is about to die, and to pass the time he tells himself stories. But he doesn’t have much success with the stories. He keeps abandoning them. Finally, he hits on a story which may be autobiographical. The main character was in a lunatic asylum. He fell in love with one of the other inmates, but she died. He is taken on an excursion with some of the inmates. One of the carers turns on some of the patients with an axe,” Lovett says.

Lovett recalls the novelist, John Banville, describing Malone Dies as ‘Tarantinoesque.’ “I think it’s quite brilliant that Tarantino was applied to a novel that was written 50 years before Tarantino starting making films. It shows how Beckett’s work hasn’t dated at all. In many ways, it’s still very much ahead of its time.”

The Unnameable has been described as a strong urge towards silence and oblivion. “It evolves from Molloy and Malone Dies. The character doesn’t have a name. He doesn’t believe in his stories anymore. He just talks about being and about having a voice in his head, which is probably the voice we all have in our heads, call it our conscience or whatever. The character is trying to deal with that voice.”

Lovett says that, like all of Beckett’s work, The Unnameable can be seen on different levels. “It just might be that Beckett as the artist can’t invest in the stories anymore, that he needs some new way to express himself. That, I think, was a situation for a lot of artists in the 20th century. Beckett had used characters in the past as tools to express himself. He then wanted to see what would happen if he just said, literally, what was in his head. He does that with great beauty.”

Lovett says he hopes people interested in writing, theatre and Irish culture will attend the Cork Opera House performances. The Gare St Lazare Players have been successfully building audiences, both internationally and in Ireland. “I think that’s because of the way we approach Beckett. From the word go, people have been saying that what’s different about us is that there is no fuss and no weird reverential stuff. You can listen to it, follow it, enjoy it and understand it.”

Beckett has often been considered difficult and impenetrable. “I never saw that in his work. People used to say to me that he’s difficult, but I had to ask them what they were talking about. What we do is accessible. I think some people are still finding that out,” he says.

Depressing is not a word that Lovett uses in relation to the great absurdist’s world view. “To me, Beckett is uplifting. He doesn’t accept the idea that there’s going to be some reward for us all after the struggle here. Life is a struggle, but it’s also full of laughter. There’s humour, compassion and integrity. There are good things to be experienced,” he says.

The Gare St Lazare Players have, in recent years, performed an adaptation of Moby Dick, Swallow, by Michael Harding, and The Good Thief, by Conor McPherson. “We do a lot more than Beckett but we keep coming back to him.” As a married couple working together, Lovett says the dynamic between him and Judy is healthy. “People wonder what it’s like working with your partner. But both of us have parents who worked together in business, so that has been very much a model for us. It doesn’t appear odd from our point of view.”

The duo occasionally has artistic differences. “I think that’s important. But, in the main, we have similar tastes. We both know what we like, but at the end of the day, Judy is the director. I’m only the hired hand. I know from experience to do what the director says.”

The Gare St Lazare Players give annual master classes on solo performances to the students of UCC’s theatre studies department. Both Lovett and his wife started their theatrical careers at the university’s Granary Theatre when they were students. They have come full circle and are more than qualified to impart their knowledge of performance.


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