Judy Hegarty Lovett: Why put Beckett’s novels on stage if they were meant to be read?
When staging a prose work by Samuel Beckett, one question frequently comes up: what is the point of putting his novels on stage if they were meant to be read?
First of all, many plays and films are adaptations of novels that were ‘meant to be read’. Staging Beckett’s prose is a challenge and, as with all adaptations, it has both positive and negative results.
Lately, I’m beginning to see the process as less of an adaptation from one form to another and more of a translation from one language to another.
The challenge is both daunting and promising. When we first staged Beckett’s novel Molloy in 1996, there were fewer questions about why we wanted to take it from page to stage. We knew Beckett himself had staged elements of his prose works in a one-man show performed by Jack McGowan. If the author himself had attempted to do it, surely it was possible.
In the intervening years, I’ve come to see the staging of his prose as a convergence of form and content similar to that of the written works, where the very means of communication is in doubt. Language itself is on trial and when this process is spoken aloud for a live audience, the experience can be thrilling. The exercise of making each production seems to match the immense uncertainty voiced in every syllable of Beckett’s texts. The process itself and the content are full of doubt. This is reassuring.
Does it help or hinder an audience’s experience of a Beckett novel if they meet it on stage? It can do both: when an actor or artist is invested in the language and empathises with the writing, there is potential for their delivery to release the text from the page and allow it to live in three dimensions as a live act.
At the same time, I wonder if we are impinging on the intimacy of reading the novel. This is the risk, the challenge, the potential damage and the impossibility of it all.
In staging How It Is (Part One), I am working with four artists: sound designer and composer Mel Mercier, lighting designer Simon Bennison and actors Stephen Dillane and Conor Lovett.
Staging the novels has illuminated Beckett’s writing for me and offered a way into the work via a voice that is itself the subject of many of his works
In the three years spent with this work and these artists, the subject of staging the prose continues to occupy our conversation. We are filled with questions and are constantly kept in check by our choices. I consider this part of the journey and the making.
In dramatising the novel, we explored the text and, through trial and error, we discovered how to make the words work in three dimensions. For me, the prose and the plays are from the same world and the same song. In singing it, to paraphrase Molloy, Godsend we don’t make a balls of it.
What I hope has emerged from staging the prose is a conversation. A conversation occurs between performers and the audience. For the most part our audience appreciates the crossover and has often voiced its preference for hearing the words aloud – that may suggest the prose lends itself to being spoken aloud.
Staging the novels has illuminated Beckett’s writing for me and offered a way into the work via a voice that is itself the subject of many of his works. Hearing Beckett’s novels on the stage is another way to meet his work and may even offer a chance to access the writing on a whole new level.