Saturday, July 20

Rough for Radio II – The Tung Auditorium

Rough for Radio II is a Beckett radio play written in French as Pochade radiophonique and first published in 1975. Beckett translated the work into English shortly before its BBC Radio 3 broadcast on his birthday (13th April 1976). Director Vincent Higgins, in collaboration with Simon Ruding (TIPP), recorded this version in-situ with inmates at HM Prison Liverpool.

A man, Animator, makes small talk with his young female stenographer (Orla Charlton): is she ready to get to work, does she have the tools of her trade? The interchange is light and familiar. He then consults a character called Dick: is he on his toes? It is his job after all to ‘encourage’ the prisoner, Fox, to talk with the use of a bull’s pizzle.

Beckett’s dialogue cleverly explores the idea that the prisoner is in fact free since it is the interrogators who are imprisoned through their dependency upon him talking, which resonates strongly with the themes of confinement and freedom reflected in both this and the previous festival in 2022.

Recording at the prison came with a number of its own challenges – sound engineer Nick Roth could only use a HD Recorder due to restrictions on what could be brought in – and what had been scheduled as a three-day event for the prisoners to read through the script, discuss its meaning, and agree upon interpretation for performance with Higgins, stalled from the very beginning with the concession of ninety minutes finally allowed on the second day to record.

From the several inmates who had attended on the first day as part of an ongoing arts and educational initiative – which have suffered from financial constraints much the same as austerity measures have impacted on the general population over the last fifteen years – two were made available to voice Auditor and Dick; for security reasons they must remain unnamed.

There is a sense that prison is a solitary quiet space whereas in fact it is much the opposite with a cacophony of barked orders, building work, and general clattering that echo within its walls 24-7, providing a realistic background to this recording which contributes to its overall success, along with the voicings as the strong Liverpool vernacular adds further depth to Beckett’s lines with a coarseness of the street that is very much in place with the play, which Beckett always considered unfinished and hence its title. The voices are natural, immediate, and visceral adding a layer of authenticity to the delivery of the lines which brought to mind Behan’s Borstal Boy.

A panel discussion with Higgins, Roth, Charlton, and Dr James Little, author of Samuel Beckett in Confinement: The Politics of Closed Space, provided useful information on the background to the work, Beckett’s influence on the formation of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop which in time would create the Dr Who theme, as well as insight on the process of working with the prison and the challenges of creating a space for released prisoners to re-establish themselves in society with employment and somewhere to live to avoid them being left at a loose end and prone to re-offending.

Rough For Radio II plays in Liverpool and Paris as part of Unreal Cities’ Beckett: Unbound, Liverpool/Paris 2024, produced in association with the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool and the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris, and with the support of The Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs.

Further details including booking available for Liverpool at https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/humanities-and-social-sciences/research/beckett/ and Paris at https://www.centreculturelirlandais.com/en/whats-on/exhibitions-events/festival-beckett-unbound  

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 2nd June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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