Category: Archive

Taking Samuel Beckett from stage to screen

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

Producing every single stage work written by Samuel Beckett, except for the one play the writer said he never wanted performed, was a daunting undertaking, and yet the Gate Theatre Dublin, under the leadership of its artistic director, Michael Colgan, brilliantly achieved this feat.

The Gate’s Beckett collection has played, in addition to the company’s home space in Dublin, London, Paris, Australia, and New York, where it was the keystone event of Lincoln Center’s Festival ’96. In the near future, most of the plays will be seen in Los Angeles and elsewhere in resuscitated versions of the original Gate stagings.

And as if staging all those works, the short ones alongside the full-length plays, and the silent fragments along with the most loquacious efforts, weren’t challenge enough, Colgan and the Gate have now begun recreating those much-admired productions on film.

The first two plays to be filmed in the Gate’s project, "Krapp’s Last Tape" and "Not I," have been completed and were seen earlier this week as part of the 38th New York Film Festival, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, playing to sold-out houses at Alice Tully Hall.

The Gate’s arrangement calls for each of the Beckett works to be done by a different director experienced in film, and, in keeping with that aim, "Krapp’s Last Tape" was handled by the Canadian-born Atom Egoyan, himself something of a NYFF favorite, while "Not I" was directed by Ireland’s Neil Jordan.

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Egoyan’s version of "Krapp’s Last Tape" runs 55 minutes and stars John Hurt in the title role of Beckett’s celebrated monologue about an aging writer who, every year on his birthday, recites his thoughts into a reel-to-reel tape recorder.

When the Gate brought its production to Lincoln Center, Krapp was played wondrously, and, to some viewers, almost definitively, by David Kelly, later made famous, to an extent, by his appearance in the film, "Waking Ned Devine."

Kelly, however, became seriously ill following the New York stand, and was replaced as Krapp by actor Hurt, now a resident of Ireland, who continued as part of the Gate company when producer Colgan took the Beckett series to London for a successful season at the Barbicon, normally the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

At the press conference following the press screening of "Krapp’s Last Tape" and "Not I," director Egoyan said that he had been drawn to the play because, among other reasons, his own father had a habit of recording his ideas and his feelings on tape from time to time.

Written in 1958, "Krapp’s Last Tape" is one of the plays Samuel Beckett composed in English, as opposed to his habit, particularly in his later years, of creating his work in French and then translating it into English.

"Krapp’s Last Tape" is one of those Beckett works in which the writer approached a form of autobiography, with the happy result that scholars are, with relative ease, able to link "events" recalled on the tapes with moments in the reclusive and somewhat enigmatic Foxrock-born author’s own life.

And, probably the most notorious parallel between "Krapp" and Beckett’s personal and professional history lies in the fact that, like his melancholy "hero," the writer did once produce a work which sold a mere 17 copies, 11 of them to "libraries beyond the sea."

Krapp’s response, the phrase "getting known," is one of the most deeply resonant echoes contained in "Krapp’s Last Tape," as is his comment that he is "drowned in dreams and burning to be gone," this last standing as one of the truly unforgettable utterances of any character in twentieth century dramatic literature, worth of ranking alongside Willy Loman’s "liked but not well-liked" and Blanche DuBois’ "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

John Hurt’s performance as Krapp is one of the most eloquent in his long career, although, in his inherent somberness, he misses a certain measure of the gallows humor other actors, David Kelly among them, have found in the part.

"Not I," the 13-minute companion piece shown with "Krapp’s Last Tape," features a striking performance by actress Julianne Moore, who worked with director Jordan in last year’ strong remake of the Graham Greene novel, "The End of the Affair."

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