2010 production of Beckett's The End
at Sydney's Belvoir Street Theatre, starring Robert Menzies
, was hailed by critics and audiences alike. In 2011, the production has just opened at Melbourne's Malthouse Theatre, as part of a mini Beckett festival in conjunction with the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA).Eamon
spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew
about beauty in unlikely places.
Do you have a favourite Beckett quote from this play?
I don't, simply because there's a new one every time I watch Rob perform the piece. The beautiful thing is that, even after working on the piece for over a year now, it's the most unlikely and unexpected lines that end up moving you. What do you adore about these words?
Oh the stunning simplicity and concentrated power of every sentence. It's like Shakespeare or Sophocles: a sort of pure clarity of meaning. It injects itself into you. It's an extraordinary quality. Tell me something about the background to this production with Robert Menzies?
It's very simply the combination of Rob and the writing, really. He's a scarily committed actor and he seems to be a pig-in-shit with this role. I think perhaps what we did well in that original production at Belvoir was to cleave everything to Beckett's text. Rob sits very much at the centre of the writing in the most basic way and the very few production elements are there simply to draw very gentle, very simple attention to the emotional pulse of Beckett's story. Beckett is described as bleak, yet in the east his outlook – beauty found in the fragility of human existence – is ancient, what do you absolutely love about Beckett and his role in Western Theatre?
To be honest I don't absolutely love Beckett's plays, at this still youthful stage of my life I find the precision of them a little disconcerting – I quite like a bit of chaos on stage, Chekhov and Shakespeare are more my absolutes – but I do find myself referring to Beckett more than anyone other an Chekhov when I'm working on different plays. He discovered this way of using a performer inside a single image which kind of broke open the boundaries of what theatre can do. And then his kindness and compassion are exemplary.And what do you absolutely love about this play?
That it wasn't written for the theatre, actually, that it was a private exercise in the form of a novella by a then little-known Irish expatriate, but within it are a series of brilliant, brilliant discoveries about form and composition and performance that pave the way for his switch to theatre in middle age. Next to the prison, the asylum is such a recurring motif throughout modernism. Tell me about this production's take on the asylum as a setting?
Hmm, we don't have one, to be honest. The piece begins in what may be an asylum but may in fact be a hospital or a prison or any number of institutions. We're more interested in the way this piece moves in an almost blasé way through time and place and yet seems utterly fixed in some kind of terrified moment of reckoning.Loneliness – a recurring Beckett theme, tell me about one of the most palpable images of loneliness found in The End?
Actually the most palpable image of loneliness for me is Rob having a cigarette before the show and preparing to perform this little monster on his own. He brings himself on stage with nothing to hide behind – it's an intrepid and lonely feat and I marvel at Rob every time he does it. Beauty in unlikely places is astonishing – what do you feel is the most quotable quote from The End about beauty found?
"We followed the quiet, dustwhite inland roads with their hedges of hawthorn and fuscia and their footpaths fringed with wild grass and daisies." A brief little tunnel of peace in the mind, really.The End by Samuel Beckett, directed by Eamon Flack, starring Robert Menzies is now playing at The CUB Malthouse until 11 March, 2011. Further details»Image credits:-
Top Right - Eamon Flack
Bottom Right - Robert Menzies. Photo – Jeff Busby