Beckett in the West End

This week Mark Shenton wrote of his pleasant surprise at finding that a triple bill of Beckett monologues seemed to be outselling Andrew Lloyd – Webber’s newest juggernaut – Stephen Ward the Musical.

It was refreshing to see that not only had these notoriously impenetrable plays successfully transferred from the Royal Court to the West End but that Sky Arts are set to broadcast one of the monologues (Not I) in July of this year.

Lisa Dwan, who performs the one-woman trilogy, concedes that many audiences in the past have been “overly burdened by that intellectual reverence and intimidated by the impenetrable nature of Beckett’s immediacy”. However, it seems that current audiences are undeterred.

The nature of the performance is as far removed from Stephen Ward the Musical as humanly possible. The first play is a monologue spoken at unbroken speed for 9 minutes in pitch black. The only thing that the audience can see is Dwan’s mouth, which is suspended eight feet above the stage.

Dwan said: “The performances are transcending [everyone’s] whole view of what theatre is. Why shouldn’t theatre be in the black? Why shouldn’t it be uncompromising? Why should a piece of poetry not play on the nerves of the audience instead of their intellect, as Beckett demanded? He wanted it spoken at the speed of thought. Why can’t you surrender that little bit, and allow it to play itself out on your nervous system? People with conventional positions struggle with Beckett, and people who are willing to be surprised, open, and look at it as a slice of life, not as just one particular medium with their very blinkered view of what theatre is, have a visceral, physical, and visual experience.”

When speaking of the rehearsal process, Dwan commented on how the director, Walter Asmus, always said “‘it always has to cost you. It needs to cost you more, we need to see you bleed up there.”

While Audition Doctor wouldn’t necessarily advocate picking Not I as a drama school audition speech, the speeches chosen should ideally push you to similar boundaries. Dwan said when she was performing that “just being suspended in that light for Footfalls, and the same way in Not I with the deprivation, makes me go places. I don’t even feel like a human being half the time, and that’s just so liberating”.

At Audition Doctor, the sessions afford students a similar sort of freedom. The session is your time to make the sort of decisions that you think will showcase the depth of your emotional range and your willingness to prove your vulnerability. They are pockets of time to safely push yourself, to let a speech truly cost you something. You will rarely find a space that offers the freedom, lack of judgement and professional insight as at Audition Doctor.