Rare chance to witness Beckett’s genius

Feb 18, 2015
Beckett Triptych actors Peter Carroll, Paul Blackman and Pamela Rabe. Photo: Mike Smith

Beckett Triptych actors Peter Carroll, Paul Blackman and Pamela Rabe. Photo: Mike Smith

Geordie Brookman admits he finds Irish playwright Samuel Beckett deeply intimidating.

It’s one of the reasons the State Theatre Company artistic director was so keen to present three of Beckett’s short works – Footfalls, Eh Joe and Krapp’s Last Tape – as a triptych at this year’s Adelaide Festival.

“I always believe that to work in theatre, you should try to do what scares you as much as possible, and what intimidates you – and there’s no doubt I find Beckett deeply intimidating,” Brookman says.

“He’s a genius, in very simple terms. The way that he combines language and image is close to second-to-none.

“He speaks directly to our subconscious … and he tries to get us to experience theatre in the way we would music or visual art, on a purely instinctual level.”

The Beckett Triptych is a rare opportunity for South Australians to see the three selected works, which are seldom presented anywhere and have not been performed here for many years.

Brookman says the playwright’s work became more distilled later in his career, with the length of the plays well suited to a triptych. Footfalls (featuring Pamela Rabe) and Eh Joe (Paul Blackwell) are each about 15 to 20 minutes long, while Krapp’s Last Tape (Peter Carroll) is around 45 minutes.

The Beckett Triptych team: Paul Blackwell, Geordie Brookman, Nescha Jelk, Pamela Rabe, Peter Carroll and Corey McMahon. Photo: Mike Smith

The Beckett Triptych team: Paul Blackwell, Geordie Brookman, Nescha Jelk, Pamela Rabe, Peter Carroll and Corey McMahon. Photo: Mike Smith

The plays will be presented in the State Theatre’s Scenic Workshop and Rehearsal Room at the Adelaide Festival Centre. Audiences will be split into two to watch, in turn, each of the shorter works, before coming together for Krapp’s Last Tape.

“They are ghost stories, in a way,” Brookman says.

“They are all about the way we relate to memory or the idea of whether we can ever truly be in the present or if we are always just the sum of our memories.”

Nescha Jelk is directing Krapp’s Last Tape and Corey McMahon is directing Eh Joe, while Brookman himself is in charge of Footfalls, in which Rabe (most recently seen in the Wentworth TV series) plays May, a woman obsessively pacing back and forth outside her dying mother’s room.

One of the challenges for directors of all Beckett’s plays is the incredibly precise instructions he left as to how they should be presented. In Footfalls, for example, the exact length and width of the floorboards the character walks up and down is specified, as well as the order of the steps (which foot must lead), the direction in which each turn should occur, the timing of the steps, and even the sound they should make.

There is room for some flexibility and interpretation, Brookman says, but nonetheless it is a “very detailed blueprint” designed to create a specific set of images that should be realised to make each play work.

“He creates this very pure style of theatricality – there should be nothing getting in the way of the play and the audience. It must be very precise, very direct and very pure.”

A time-lapse video showing the conversion of one of the performance spaces.

Utilising the Rehearsal Room and the Scenic Workshop for the Beckett Triptych performances has also created a number of logistical challenges, with rehearsals having to take place off-site while the spaces are being adapted. A new wall and door frame have been constructed, additional sound-proofing has been created, portable seating banks are being brought in, and black fabric and other materials have been used to transform the two rooms into theatres.

The Scenic Workshop was previously used for performances of Chekhov’s The Seagull (2014 Adelaide Festival) and Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata (2013 Adelaide Festival), during which its industrial nature was exposed and enhanced.

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“Beckett’s plays require a different approach,” Brookman says. “To me, they exist best in a void and as emptier space as you can create, so we are spending a lot of time creating as pure a theatrical space as we can.”


Nescha Jelk and Peter Carroll during rehearsals at the Lions Arts Centre. Photo: Shane Reid

Having used the workshop as a performance space three years in a row now, Brookman says the State Theatre is becoming adept at managing the conversion process. One of the advantages of turning its own spaces into theatres is that the company has a reliable venue during Festival time, when space is at a premium.

“It’s also an encouragement for audiences in Adelaide to take a step outside their normal viewing boundaries.”

The Beckett Triptych will be presented in the State Theatre Scenic Workshop and Rehearsal Room, Adelaide Festival Centre, from February 20 until March 15 as part of the 2015 Adelaide Festival.

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