How Closely Should Beckett’s Intentions Be Followed?

Cans
Via the Literary Saloon, interesting article in Prospect on how rigid rules of staging Beckett's plays are threatening to ossify them:

Calder’s efforts to make these plays available to audiences have an almost missionary zeal. Yet he is anything but democratic about their interpretation; he speaks with scorn of those who do “perverse things” with them. “If you try to set Endgame on the Moon [as one American company apparently did], or in some such different environment, the play just loses all its meaning.” There is room for manoeuvre, he insists, but his scale of what is “acceptable” is particularly subtle—even obscurely so. “People say that the Beckett Estate is very tyrannical, insisting that the [stage] directions are followed exactly. But there’s always room for little differences here and there, for little interpretations. But the words mustn’t change. The stage directions mustn’t change.”

The result of this approach was evident in both the Gate’s Godot and Calder’s Endgame: scrupulously faithful productions, performed with passion and insight by committed casts, but dominated by imagery so familiar that all surprise was absent.

Perversely, it seems to me, familiarity has made these plays more inaccessible: their visual motifs are so well known beforehand that they are more easily dismissed. Godot is “the one where nothing happens”; Endgame is “the one with the old pair in the bins”; Happy Days is “the one about the woman buried in the sand.” Like conceptual art, the point becomes the idea, not engagement with the work.

That's a powerful point: what interest would Beckett's heirs have in promoting his plays as cliches? And why such worry? After everything that's been done to stage and manipulate other classic UK theatrical works, the likes of Wilde and Shakespeare haven't been perverted. In any event, leave it to the audience to decide what works and what doesn't.


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Scott, it’s not Beckett’s intentions we’re talking about – it’s his *instructions*. And rather than ask if they should “followed”, ask how Beckett’s instructions be *respected*. Choice of words is central – and no-one was more sensitive to words than Beckett. I’d rather watch his “cliches” than have his work swamped by careless luvvies.
Also, the article is in Prospect Magazine – home of tepid, conversative dross since 1995.

And it’s precisely because of “everything that’s been done to stage and manipulate other classic. . .theatrical works” that Beckett insisted it be *his* vision that predominates stagings of his plays, not the goofy vision of some third-rate director with “ideas.” Thanks ought to be given to Beckett for sparing us from the “re-stagings” of those who are his intellectual and aesthetic inferiors to an infinite degree.

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