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Re-imagined performance of four Beckett plays to be staged in Dublin
Re-imagined performances of four of Samuel Beckett’s plays will be given in Trinity College, starting next week, bringing his earlier works together with his final play.
The four short plays; ‘Play’, ‘Come and Go’, Catastrophe’ and ‘What, Where’, rarely performed in Ireland, explore timeless issues and ethics in domestic and political domains.
Dr. Nick Johnson is co-directing the theatre production. The Assistant Professor of Drama in Trinity and co-founder of the Samuel Beckett Summer School, has teamed up with theatre-maker, Marc Atkinson, who is also Nick’s former student.
Hailing originally from El Paso, Texas, Nick’s passion for Beckett began at the age of seven when he played ‘a boy’ in Waiting for Godot. In 2004 he was awarded the prestigious Mitchell Scholarship by the US-Ireland Alliance which further developed his relationship with Beckett and Ireland.
Named to honor former US Senator George Mitchell’s pivotal contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process, [the Mitchell Scholarship] is designed to introduce and connect generations of future American leaders to the island of Ireland, while recognizing and fostering intellectual achievement, leadership, and a commitment to community and public service.
From US-Ireland Alliance
Nick has developed a bond with Beckett’s works but he has doubts as to whether he would have indulged in it had he not received the scholarship or acted in ‘Waiting for Godot’ when he was young. For him the two moments were key, but in different ways.
‘As a child you’re not trying to study his work analytically. You connect to it at a level that is more about music and images and is very pure,’ he said, while the Mitchell scholarship in turn, gave him the opportunity to immerse himself in Beckett’s creations.
But is there something that makes this production different from those in the past?
Nick said he takes inspiration from one of Beckett’s most famous quotes; ‘we want to fail better’, adding that ‘we see a great freedom as well as rigour.’
‘His plays require a very strict following of the stage directions. The rules exist for a reason and he has a specific thought’ Nick said. ‘He was writing at a time where the technology of his time made sense, if you do that in the contemporary world, you’re doing that in a culture where that now has a different signification, it’s the past.’
Therein lies the dilemma, which do you do? ‘Do you follow his stage directions directly as written and forget about the time he’s set it in? Or do you try to think about the thought that he was thinking at the time.’ Because of this, Nick said there are two models of faithfulness to consider, ‘you’re trying to think the thought in the now.’
He doesn’t consider the production to be ‘new.’ ‘I suppose we think that every time we do theatre it is new. It’s your time,’ he said.
Gender balance played a part in the selection of the four plays. The initial thoughts were to choose the most famous of Beckett’s works but many of his plays are male-heavy. ‘Play’, ‘Come and Go’, Catastrophe’ and ‘What, Where’ were selected because they are short and allow for a more varied and balanced cast.
A significant reason in choosing ‘Catastrophe’ in particular was the connection with Eastern Europe and a particular audience. The production was originally performed in March of this year in the National Academy of Theatre and Film in Bulgaria at the invitation of the Irish Embassy in Sofia and Beckett’s work is well known there.
According to Nick, when these particular plays are put side-by-side and in this order it allows ‘each piece to become like a movement in a symphony rather than a track in a compilation album.’
He said the title ‘Ethica’ came naturally to him, and conveniently the translation was the same in both English and Bulgarian.
You can find out more information about the production here
The images below were taken by photographer Colm McNally especially for this production: