Monday, November 28

Samuel Beckett in Confinement – University of Liverpool

Beckett is a little bit like the proverbial buses: there’s never any when you’d just like one then suddenly they all come along at once. In the case of Beckett: Confined, a three day-festival of Samuel Beckett’s plays, associated musical performances, and lectures exploring the politics of closed space as a reading of our times, you couldn’t really want for much more.

The programme – brought together by Unreal Cities in association with the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies, The Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs, and Culture Ireland–  presents an exciting blend of Beckett’s work, including multiple performances of some of his most rarely performed plays alongside a musical series, all presented in some of Liverpool’s most interesting and non-traditional performance spaces, bringing them alive in new and unconventional ways.

Catastrophe is one of Beckett’s few plays to deal with a political theme – it was dedicated to then imprisoned Czech reformer and playwright, Václav Havel – and, arguably, holds the title of Beckett’s most optimistic work. Directed by Adrian Dunbar and performed at The Toxteth Reservoir, this one act play uses the world of theatre and its hierarchies as a metaphor of power, the violence of totalitarianism, and the fight against them as a director (Stanley Townsend) and his female assistant (Orla Charlton) orchestrate an unnamed protagonist (Bryan Burroughs) as we the audience look on. As Dunbar noted to me afterwards, not one of us intervenes to stop this charade, we merely observe: pause for a moment and you’ll realise this scenario plays out in much of our own daily lives already.

Krapp’s Last Tape is a one-act play, directed by Geoff Gould, Artistic Director of Blood In The Alley Productions, and performed at The Black-E. On his sixty-ninth birthday, Krapp (Denis Conway), as has become his custom, hauls out his old tape recorder to review one of the earlier years and make a new recording commenting on the events of the previous twelve months. As Krapp reviews his own past through the recordings, we slowly understand that he has nothing left but his past as his voice on tape. As discussed with Gould and Conway afterwards, this is literally a reflective piece as Beckett effectively holds a mirror up to the audience. Which of us remains brave enough to honestly face ourself?

Ohio Impromptu is a ‘playlet’ which, under the direction of Dunbar, operates around a Doppelgänger seen as mirror images (Lawlor Roddy; Vincent Higgins) and is representative of Beckett’s ghost period and the symbolism of apparitions that reverberate the haunting nature of memory and nostalgia, with The Toxteth Reservoir proving to be the perfect performance location.

Concluding the opening day at The Tung Auditorium, Fidelio Trio performed work from two of Beckett’s favourite composers. Schubert’s Piano Trio No.1 in E-flat major for piano, violin, and cello was a real pleasure before we were served up an audio-visual delight with Beckett’s Ghost Trio, a play for television, performed by Anna Nygh and Frank McCusker, with Fidelio Trio playing Beckett’s prescribed extracts from Largo of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Trio (The Ghost) in accompaniment. It was the perfect note upon which to close the opening day of a brilliant festival.

There’s much to be taken from Beckett and for any writer or director, his clever use of silence and space were perfectly embodied in all these pieces with strong, engaging performances from all involved. I can’t recommend this festival highly enough – this is hopefully the first of many to follow – and for anyone attending: dare yourself to think and prepare to be well-rewarded.

With keynote introductions from Professor Alison Fell, Dean of the School of Histories, Languages and Cultures at the University of Liverpool, and Patrick Griffin, the Madden-Hennebry Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, the driving force behind the festival lies very much with Dunbar’s curation and whose Unreal Cities acknowledge the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival as the origin of the productions of Ohio Impromptu and Catastrophe.

The success of any event often lies with those in the background so special mention must be made to Gerry Diver from the Institute of Irish Studies and his team including the student ambassadors who coordinated events on the ground so well.

Samuel Beckett in Confinement performs across the weekend of 6th-8th May with further details and booking information at https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/humanities-and-social-sciences/research/beckett/

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 6th May 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★

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