Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Theatre for the absurd

Nothing quite brings out the point of Beckett like an audience. It's when you've sat through a brilliant performance of Waiting for Godot (as I did today) which features, among other things:

1. Uproarious guffaws from the audience while poor Lucky struggles with his imagined net and / or blabbers his desperate way through a litany about man's diminishment

2. A loud-mouthed 'expert' who insists on explaining and interpreting the play to us while it's being performed - helpfully pointing out, for instance, that Vladimir and Estragon don't move even when they say they're going to leave (as if we could't see that for ourselves)

3. The departure of a good 25% of the audience at the end of the first act because the organizers forgot to mention that it was a two act play and people who hadn't read the play left in the intermission thinking it was all over [1]

that you begin to realise just how accurate and piercing a mirror Beckett's work is, how perfect a reflection of man's fundamental silliness;

that you begin to experience the disconnected, dystopic poetry of his dialogue as a superior and gritty form of realism;

that you begin to recognise your own life for what it is, banal and trivial, an endless variation on an uninspired theme;

that you begin to know that it is only in these brief moments, when we step outside the dance of words and shadows, acknowledge ourselves as ridiculous and unhappy, that we are, for an instant, beautiful.

We're in no danger of ever thinking any more.
Then what are we complaining about?
[1] Maybe there is something to this evolution business after all


The Black Mamba said...

yay! will get to see the same production early next month.

it is amazing to see people pay good money to show up and behave this way.

Anonymous said...

can't imagine people going to a beckett production without knowing what the play was! i can understand it can happen in a multiplex but in a theatre?

btw, have you seen the latest centenary edition of complete works of beckett? they are some of the most beautifully bound and packaged books i have seen. not that i understand his novels or poems or essays or for that matter plays but still those books work as purely physical objects of great beauty!

harry said...

I empathise entirely. I don't think I've watched one play or movie in all my life where some moron hasnt laughed at all the wrong places. It seems to take such a leap of faith (and harder still - the suspension of snobbery :-)) to not despair at humankind at times like this. *SIGH*

Szerelem said...

I have never seen Waiting for Godot on stage. =(
Beckett always manages to bring out the silliness of people. A person once told me that she didn't understand why the play is considered so great because "I mean, nothing happens." don't say.

Cheshire Cat said...

Ah, but Beckett is supposed to be funny...

Falstaff said...

BM: Ah, good for you. I highly recommend it. It's easily the best performance of Godot I've ever seen, though admittedly that's not saying much.

Alok: Oh, I don't know. I've been to a couple of Beckett performances where I hadn't read the play either. Though I guess it's a little less likely that someone would have read Beckett more generally, but never Godot. My anecdotal sense is that most of the people who walked out were college students who'd come to attend the play because student tickets were cheap and some well-read friend of theirs told them it was a good play, and they figured this way they could impress their date with how well read they were.

Haven't seen the centenary edition. Shall look it up. Come to think of it - I own very little of Beckett's work. Hmmm. Now when is my birthday again?

harry: Yes. Though to be fair, the guy who really annoyed me was the loud 'expert'.

szerelem: Ah, you've missed something. You really have to see the:

"Estragon takes Vladimir's hat. Vladimir adjusts Lucky's hat on his head. Estragon puts on Vladimir's hat in place of his own which he hands to Vladimir. Vladimir takes Estragon's hat. Estragon adjusts Vladimir's hat on his head. Vladimir puts on Estragon's hat in place of Lucky's which he hands to Estragon. Estragon takes Lucky's hat. Vladimir adjusts Estragon's hat on his head. Estragon puts on Lucky's hat in place of Vladimir's which he hands to Vladimir. Vladimir takes his hat, Estragon adjusts Lucky's hat on his head. Vladimir puts on his hat in place of Estragon's which he hands to Estragon. Estragon takes his hat. Vladimir adjusts his hat on his head. Estragon puts on his hat in place of Lucky's which he hands to Vladimir. Vladimir takes Lucky's hat. Estragon adjusts his hat on his head. Vladimir puts on Lucky's hat in place of his own which he hands to Estragon. Estragon takes Vladimir's hat. Vladimir adjusts Lucky's hat on his head. Estragon hands Vladimir's hat back to Vladimir who takes it and hands it back to Estragon who takes it and hands it back to Vladimir who takes it and throws it down."

bit performed (and performed well) to appreciate the brilliance of it.

Hope you get the chance to see Godot on stage soon.

Cat: Oh, yes, absolutely. I wasn't necessarily suggesting that the audience was wrong to laugh (though a) I've personally never managed to find Lucky's misery funny, and his 'thinking' strikes too close to home for me to be able to laugh at b) from conversations I overheard afterwards, I'm pretty sure that at least some people in the audience walked away with the impression that Godot is a sort of comedy of manners). The point is that in Beckett the same scene (Lucky's 'thinking') can seem hilarious to some people and chillingly prophetic to others. How do we tell sanity from madness, the absurd from insight? How do we deal with the fact that something can be both patently ridiculous and yet manifestly, dramatically true? This is why Beckett is so brilliant - because he recognises that when the great truths are spoken, there will be those who will find them funny. And they may be right. As Estragon says towards the end of the first act, "Nothing is certain".

n said...

i've always wanted to see a production of waiting for godot :(

Raoul said...

I don't think blabber is quite the right word to use with respect to Lucky's speech. It is slightly absurd, yes. And a bit nonsensical in parts. But for me, it's easily the best part of the play.

In a sense, the speech is a microcosm (if that's the word I'm looking for) of the play itself. In that single sentence, Beckett captures the irony of divine apathy and the desperate struggle of man that the play seeks to demonstrate.

In fact, the speech has always reminded me of 'The Grand Inquisitor' passage from The Brothers Karamazov, which again in many ways, is symbolic of the central theme of the novel itself.

That's just my interpretation. It's quite possible that I might have missed the point entirely.

Tabula Rasa said...

cracked up at the thought of people leaving at the intermission :-D

one of my favorite theater moments was watching waiting for godot at prithvi in bombay. naseeruddin shah delivered a gripping monologue looking right into the eyes of someone sitting in middle of the third row. me.

harry said...

Naah, TabulaRasa -- Naseer has an ever-so-slight squint, so he was actually looking at the 4th row, where *i* was sitting.
And when Tom Alter drooled on stage, surely you saw him sneak a look at row 4 right before that?

Aishwarya said...

I've only ever seen Godot on film.

Also, I'm probably rather unusual in that I read Godot quite late into my Beckettreading career. I started with Company and read most of the prose work before I even started on his drama. (I'm a freak!)

Falstaff said...

n: Hope you manage it soon.

raoul: I wasn't implying that the speech was 'blabber' in the sense that it was nonsensical - merely the speech pattern of how it was performed on stage. Wouldn't go quite so far as to say it's the finest bit in the play (my favourite part is the dialogue between Vladimir and Estragon early in Act two - the bit about voices "like leaves" and how seeking keeps you from hearing, keeps you from thinking), but certainly think the speech is a highpoint. Which is why I thought the audience reaction was absurd - I'm pretty sure most of those people were so busy laughing that they didn't hear what Lucky was saying, and didn't get the terrible yet moving message hidden away under all his patter.

tr: Yes. I was particularly amused by this young couple sitting next to me who were informed by a knowledgeable friend that there was a second act, but that it was EXACTLY the same as the first, after which they dawdled about for another five minutes (she chewing on her lip, he calling other friends and asking them - "hi! listen, have you ever watched Waiting for Godot? Godot. Have you read it?...") before finally walking out.

Harry / TR: Ah, Prithvi.

aishwarya: You are. Presumably this means that you, unlike most people I know, have read the novels?

Aishwarya said...

I have, though I really need to read them again (especially the Unnamable trilogy). Reading Beckett at 15 may look good, but you do end up missing a lot.

Falstaff said...

Aishwarya: :-). Beckett at 15? You are a precocious child, aren't you?

Aishwarya said...

I was. Now, of course, I am an adult and anyone who called me precocious would look rather silly. ;)
If it helps, though, I've spent the last two weeks rereading Georgette Heyer.

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