Beckett – No Room For Interpretation?
Why should Beckett attempt to strictly control productions of his plays and choose to repudiate 'interpretative' productions that depart from his stage directions?
by Martin Stepanek
It is a well-known fact that Beckett condemned all productions of his plays which ignored his precise stage direction or tried to work freely with the text and possible interpretations. His own directing was rigorous and very strict and he did not allow actors any freedom for a personal interpretation of their depicted character. About an 'interpretative' production of Endgame by The American Repertory Theatre, Beckett once noted that it ‘is a complete parody of the play’, since it ‘dismisses [his] directions’.
It seems strange that Beckett was so anxious and almost paranoid to lose control over his plays and their reception, as soon as they were actually performed and directed by someone else other than himself, or, at least, without him being closely involved in a production. Beckett once said: ‘I produce an object. What people make of it is not my concern.’ Obviously, and quite contrary to this statement, Beckett seemed to be very concerned with what people, especially directors, made of his objects, the written plays, and whether they presented them differently from what he originally suggested. Not that Beckett only did not trust directors, but he was also very suspicious when it came to the so-called actors: ‘the best possible play is one in which there are no actors, only the text.’
Beckett’s dream of an ideal play without any actors was a difficult one to actually come true. He probably came closest to realise his dream with his play Breath, where we do not have an actor on stage, but only hear a recorded ‘faint brief cry and immediately inspiration’ and ‘expiration’, while light is increasing and decreasing on stage. Nowadays, the cry and the inspiration and expiration could probably be produced by a computer, so that really no actor would be involved in the play. The question remains, however, if Beckett would be truly satisfied, and his dream have really come true, since the performed play does not contain any text spoken or read out on stage. So, if we do not have any actors on stage, as Beckett wished for his ideal play, we then also do not really have articulated text on stage, which seemed to be an essential feature of his ideal play too, not considering the fact that in his later years Beckett even seemed to mistrust words and language too, his plays becoming shorter and shorter, and sometimes not even containing a single spoken word.
Since spoken text normally has to be articulated by an actor on stage, Beckett at least wanted his actors not to act, but to serve as a mere medium for the text. It is apparent that in most of his plays, especially in the later ones, we commonly find words like ‘undeterminable’ and ‘as alike as possible’ to describe the participating players. In addition, there are several other remarks about the players, Beckett often wanting them to be colourless and without any expression in voice and appearance.
In making characters/actors look alike and speak in the same, often motionless way, Beckett tries to focus on what the actors say, rather than how they say it individually or how they act as individual players. Beckett’s view was that the less the actors individually acted, so to say, the more the actors disappeared as individual actors on stage, the better and more authentic it was for the production. It is very much like a paradox, since Beckett wanted actors to act as little as possible, which in itself is, of course, just another way of acting too, and is only to be achieved with great acting skills and stamina from the actors. Billie Whitelaw, Beckett’s probably favourite actress, describes the strange experience of acting in order not to act:
 Anna McMullan, ‘Samuel Beckett as Director: The Art of Mastering Failure‘, p.196, in The Cambridge Companion to Beckett, ed., John Pilling, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
 Michael Worton, ‘ Waiting for Godot and Endgame: Theatre as Text’, p. 67, in The Cambridge Companion to Beckett, ed., John Pilling, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
 ibid., p.68.
 Samuel Beckett, Breath, p. 371, in The Complete Dramatic Works, London: Faber and Faber, 1986.
 Samuel Beckett, Come and Go, p.353, in The Complete Dramatic Works, London: Faber and Faber, 1986.
 Samuel Beckett, Come and Go, p.356, Ohio Impromptu, p.445, Quad, p.453, What Where, p.469, in The Complete Dramatic Works, London: Faber and Faber, 1986.
- Quote paper
- Martin Stepanek (Author), 2002, Beckett - No Room For Interpretation?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/9629