Act Without Words I (running time: 16 minutes)
Written in French in 1956, Act Without Words I is a mime, as the title suggests. A man sits in a desert and struggles to reach a flask of water and other objects, which remain stubbornly out of reach. Yet despite his continual disappointment, he does not give up. There is no escape from the playing area – he is 'immediately flung back' when he attempts to enter the wings.
Karel Reisz was born in Czechoslovakia in 1926 and educated in Britain. He was the first programme director of the National Film Theatre in the early 1950s. He has directed many films including: Night Must Fall (1963) with Albert Finney; Isadora (1967) with Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards and James Fox; The Gambler (1973-4) with James Caan; The French Lieutenant's Woman (1980) with Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons; Sweet Dreams (1985-6) with Jessica Lang and Ed Harris; and Everybody Wins (1990) with Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. He has also directed many productions on stages across the US, Great Britain and Ireland.
'As always with Beckett, in the agony there is pity, understanding and humanity. By using repetition, Beckett was trying to make sense of his own experience of the world. Right or wrong doesn't come into it.'– Karel Reisz
Act Without Words II (running time: 11 minutes)
Written in French in 1956, Act Without Words II is a 10-minute mime involving two players, 'A' and 'B', who are in two large sacks on the stage. Beckett specified 'violent' lighting and extended the notion by having the players prodded into action by a 'goad'. A is 'slow, awkward and absent' whereas B is 'brisk, rapid, precise'. A emerges slowly to set about his banal routine. Dishevelled and sulky, he eventually undresses and re-enters the sack. At this point, the goad prods B into action. He embarks on a more complicated routine, checking his watch and moving briskly to relocate the sacks on the stage before retiring back to his own sack. The goad, now on two wheels, awakens A and the cycle continues.
'This mime should be played on a low and narrow platform at back of stage, violently lit in its entire length, the rest of the stage being in darkness. Frieze effect.'
Director and writer Enda Hughes's film credits include: The Eliminator (1996), which Enda wrote, produced and directed, and was named Film of the Year by the Irish Times; Flying Saucer Rock & Roll (1997), an award-winning short film (Best Fantasy Short – San Sebastian, Best European Short Film – Brussels); and Comm-Raid on the Potemkin, a 3-minute film for Planet Wild and Channel 4. Enda Hughes has also made 15 other short films. He has his own production company, Cousins Pictures, which he runs with his brother Michael.
'Beckett was so concerned with form that I think he would have employed the mechanics of film in the same inventive way that he employed lighting and the stage itself – as presences, even characters in the drama. That's what I wanted to try and do myself.'– Enda Hughes
Breath (running time: 45 seconds)
Breath was written in 1969 in response to Kenneth Tynan's request for a piece for his show Oh, Calcutta, which featured a series of risqué sketches. It lasts less than a minute. On a set full of rubbish, a person cries out, then breathes in again.
'Faint brief cry and immediately inspiration and slow increase of light together reaching maximum together in about ten seconds. Silence and hold about five seconds.'
Damien Hirst was born in Bristol in 1965. He attended Goldsmiths' College, University of London from 1986 until 1989. While still a student, Damien curated the widely acclaimed 'Freeze' exhibition, which launched the career of many successful artists including himself. He has had many solo shows in London, New York and Zurich. He exhibited at the Tate Gallery and recently showed pieces in the 'Sensation' exhibition at the Royal Academy. He was short-listed for the Turner Prize in 1992 and won it in 1995.
'When I was asked to direct this film, I read the text and thought it was incredibly precise and strict. While preparing to shoot, I kept reading the text over and over and what really focused me was Beckett's direction "Hold for about five seconds". That was when I realised that Beckett had this massive sense of humour.'– Damien Hirst
Come and Go (running time: 8 minutes)
Written in English in 1965, this piece has only 121 words in all. Beckett's note to the text is almost twice as long. Three women meet in a softly lit place. Seated on a bench facing the audience, they reminisce about old school days. Each woman leaves the stage briefly, and during each absence an appalling secret is whispered about the third – which the audience doesn't hear. At the end the three hold hands with the cryptic comment 'I can feel the rings', though Beckett specifies that none are apparent.
'May we not speak of the old days? [Silence.] Of what came after? [Silence.] Shall we hold hands in the old way?' – Vi, Come and Go
A graduate of University College Cork and associate director at the Donmar Warehouse, John Crowleyis an award-winning theatre director. His play True Lines won the Stewart Parker award for Best New Play in 1995 and he also won the Kilkenny Cream of Ireland Award for Performing Arts for his work on Double Helix in 1996. His recent work includes The Match Seller Girl (Theatre Project Tokyo, Japan), Macbeth for Thelma Holt Productions (Queens Theatre, West End) Juno and the Paycock (Donmar Warehouse and Broadway) and The Turn of the Screw (Welsh National Opera). I think Come and Go is a perfect piece of writing. It's all of seven minutes but what he compresses into that is three lifetimes full of sadness.
Catastrophe (running time: 7 minutes)
Written in French in 1982, Catastrophe features a theatre director and his assistant arranging a protagonist, who stands on a black block submitting to their direction. 'D', the director, wears a fur coat and matching toque (a kind of hat) and smokes a fat cigar. He has only a short amount of time to devote to the rehearsal, as he must go to a caucus meeting. 'A', the assistant, behaves with humility and alacrity, though she carefully wipes D's armchair before she can relax in it. She has frequent recourse to her pad and pencil. Luke, the offstage lighting man, remains invisible throughout. 'D' gets a 'storm of applause' for his creation but the brief existence of the protagonist ('P') ends as a skull: '… raises his head, fixes the audience. The applause falters, dies.'
'Terrific. He'll have them on their feet. I can hear it from here.' – 'Director', Catastrophe
Playwright and filmmaker David Mamet is the author of the plays Oleanna, Glengarry Glen Ross (which won the Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics' Circle Award), American Buffalo, Speed the Plow, Reunion and Cryptogram (which won the Obie Award), among others. His translations and adaptations include Red River by Pierre Laville and The Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov. His films include The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Untouchables, House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner, Hoffa, The Edge, Wag the Dog and The Winslow Boy.
Footfalls (running time: 28 minutes)
Footfalls was written in English between March and December 1975. May, wrapped in tatters, paces back and forth engaging in conversation with the disembodied voice of her mother. In the second scene, May's voice becomes subsumed into her mother's. She paces ever more slowly as the play progresses, and the light dims, so that by the fourth and final scene there is no trace of her.
'Will you never have done revolving it all'– May, Footfalls
Walter Asmus is a distinguished German theatre director. He was a close friend of Beckett's and worked with him on many occasions, first directing Waiting For Godot for the Gate Theatre in 1988.
Endgame (running time: 1 hour 24 minutes)
Endgame was written in French in 1957. Hamm, who is blind and unable to walk, and Clov, Hamm's servant, occupy 'a bare interior'. Nagg and Nell, Hamm's parents, are in dustbins in a corner, and sometimes pop up to talk. Clov looks out of the two small windows with a telescope. The world outside seems dead and grey. Daily rituals are performed ad nauseam. 'Why this farce, day after day?' asks Nell. Hamm and Clov have both 'had enough'. They repeatedly discuss whether or not Clov will leave, and why he stays. Hamm asks Clov to kill him, but he won't. However, Nell dies. Finally, Clov says he's leaving once again and returns 'dressed for the road', but he stands watching Hamm until the curtain falls.
You prayed …
[Pause. He corrects himself.]
You CRIED for night; it comes…
[Pause. He corrects himself.]
It FALLS: now cry in darkness.
[ He repeats, chanting.]
You cried for night; it falls: now cry in darkness.
Nicely put, that.
– Hamm, Endgame
Dublin-born writer and director Conor McPherson has written several highly acclaimed plays including St Nicholas and the multiple-award-winning The Weir, commissioned by and staged at the Royal Court Theatre. This production earned him the Evening Standard Award and Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright. In 1999 The Weir won Best Play at the Olivier Awards. In 1996 Conor wrote the script for I Went Down for Treasure Films/BBC films, produced by Robert Walpole and directed by Paddy Breathnach. In 1999, he wrote and directed Saltwater, a film adaptation of his play This Lime Tree Bower.
'Hopefully, the film will demystify Beckett's reputation for being hard going. I just wanted to make sure it was funny, because, if it was funny, it could be understood. It's a comedy, a bittersweet comedy.' – Conor McPherson
Happy Days (running time: 1 hour 19 minutes)
Written in English and considered Beckett's most cheerful piece, Happy Days features a woman buried up to her waist in a mound of sand. Winnie's husband, Willie, appears only occasionally from his tunnel behind the mound. Winnie's opening words, 'Another heavenly day', set the tone for a long monologue which lasts until she can no longer busy herself with the contents of her enormous handbag. She follows the routine of the day – praying, brushing her teeth, reminiscing about the past and endlessly trying to recall 'unforgettable lines' that she has once read. By the end of the second act she is buried up to her neck, but she carries on chattering cheerfully.
'Ah well, what matter, that's what I always say, it will have been a happy day after all, another happy day.'– Winnie, Happy Days
After working in TV in Chicago and New York, Patricia Rozema returned to her native Canada to work as an associate producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's nightly news program, The Journal. She began her film career in 1985 with a short entitled Passion: A Letter in 16mm, which won her second prize at the Chicago International Film Festival. Her debut feature film, I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, which she wrote, co-produced, directed and edited, was selected for the Director's Fortnight in Cannes and won the coveted Prix de la Jeunesse. She went on to write and direct the award-winning White Room and When Night is Falling. More recently she has adapted a short film, The Hunger, produced by Tony and Ridley Scott, written and directed the Emmy-Award-winning Six Gestures, and adapted Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.
'I wanted to make Happy Days because, well, it's so happy. The sizzling boy/girl interplay between that cheerful socialite and her strong silent type, their crazy antics – not to mention that startling flip-flop ending – it all adds up to a must-see movie. And as theatre and now movie personality Samuel Beckett confided at a LA hot spot recently "It gave people the chance to really like me."' – Patricia Rozema
Krapp's Last Tape (running time: 58 minutes)
In Krapp's Last Tape, which was written in English in 1958, an old man reviews his life and assesses his predicament. We learn about him not from the 69-year-old man on stage, but from his 39-year-old self on the tape he chooses to listen to. On the 'awful occasion' of his birthday, Krapp was then and is now in the habit of reviewing the past year and 'separating the grain from the husks'. He isolates memories of value, fertility and nourishment to set against creeping death 'when all my dust has settled'.
'Perhaps my best years are gone. When there was a chance of happiness. But I wouldn't want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn't want them back.'
Atom Egoyan's writing and direction for film, television and theatre have been acclaimed throughout the world. He has won numerous awards including the Grand Prix and the International Critics' Award at the Cannes Film Festival and two Academy Award nominations. His films include Felicia's Journey, the award-winning The Sweet Hereafter; Exotica; Calendar; The Adjuster, Speaking Parts, Family Viewing and Next of Kin.'I am fascinated by human interaction with technology. Beckett explores the contrast between memory and recorded memory as Krapp reminisces on his 69th birthday, struggling to reconcile perception and reality. Technology is an enormous issue today, so Beckett's themes are hugely relevant. The human inability to communicate in reality is brought into sharp focus.' – Atom Egoyan
Not I (running time: 14 minutes)
Not I, written in English in 1972, features an actress seated on stage with just her mouth spot-lit. The mouth then delivers a long stream of consciousness. Evasion is the principle theme, as is highlighted by Beckett's note to the text in which the mouth's chief endeavour throughout the play is a 'vehement refusal to relinquish the third person'. The mouth undergoes a desperate struggle to avoid saying 'I', marked by four moments of crisis in which her monologue becomes a question and answer with an inner voice not heard by the audience.
'… out … into this world … this world … tiny little thing … before its time …'
Neil Jordan's film career began with the role of creative consultant on John Boorman's Excalibur in 1981, about which he made a documentary entitled The Making of Excalibur – Myth into Movie. Since then he has made twelve films: Angel (1982); Company of Wolves (1984); Mona Lisa (1986); The Crying Game (1992), for which he won an Oscar for best screenplay; Interview with the Vampire (1994); Michael Collins (1995), which was awarded a Golden Lion for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival; The Butcher Boy (1996), for which he won a Silver Bear for Direction at the Berlin Film Festival; In Dreams (1999); and The End of the Affair (1999) for which he won the BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay.
'Despite the theatrical nature of the piece, the startling image at the heart of it – an isolated mouth – could perhaps be better realised in the cinema. Also, working within the limits of Samuel Beckett's stage instructions becomes oddly liberating, like etching a map of the world on a postage stamp.' – Neil Jordan
Ohio Impromptu (running time: 12 minutes)
Ohio Impromptu, written in 1980, opens with a figure clad in black with long white hair hiding his face and sitting on a white chair at a white table. There are two characters, the Reader and the Listener. The Reader, it emerges, is a mysterious messenger from someone now dead and once loved by the Listener. The book the Reader reads from tells the story of the Listener mourning right up until the last moment, when the story is told for the last time and 'there is nothing left to tell'. Throughout, the Listener not only listens but also regulates his companion's reading by knocking on the table with his hand in an attempt to ensure that this will not be the final telling of the tale.
'With never a word exchanged they grew to be as one.'
Charles Sturridge has worked extensively in theatre, film and television both as a screenwriter and director. His film work include Runners, A Handful of Dust, Aria, Fairy Tale and A True Story. For television he directed Soft Target, A Foreign Field, Gulliver's Travels, and Longitude. For the stage he has also translated Anton Chekhov's play The Seagull.
Ohio Impromptu captures that universally human emotion of losing the one you love the most and expresses it in its purest and most terrifying form.
A Piece of Monologue (running time: 20 minutes)
In A Piece Of Monologue, written in English in 1979, a speaker tells a fragment of a story about birth and death, in which the narrative details almost match those visible to us as the theatre set. The play dramatises a successive loss of company: firstly in an account of the destruction of photographs and secondly in the memories of a funeral in the rain.
'Birth was the death of him.'
Originally an actor, Robin Lefevre started directing with John Byrne's first play, Writer's Cramp. Subsequently he joined the Hampstead Theatre where he directed Bodies by James Saunders and Brian Friel's Translations, among other plays. Later he directed Friel's Aristocrats, for which he won a New York Drama Desk nomination for Best Director. Robin has worked extensively at several major British theatres including the Bush Theatre and also in the West End, where in 1985 he directed a production of Alan Bleasdale's Are You Lonesome Tonight?, which won the Evening Standard Best Musical award. Most recently he directed the revival of the Gate's production of Krapp's Last Tape starring John Hurt at the New Ambassador Theatre. His television work includes Alan Bleasdale's major series Jake's Progress, starring Robert Lindsay and Julie Walters, and a short film for Channel 4, Self Catering.
'Beckett burns images on your brain in the time it takes to make a sandwich.' – Robin Lefevre
Play (running time: 16 minutes)
Play was written in English in December 1963.
Three urns stand on the stage. From each, a head protrudes – a man and two women. The play tells the story of a love triangle, and each character narrates a bitter history and their role in it. On the stage, each head is provoked into speech by an spotlight. In the film, the camera takes the role of the spotlight.
'Adulterers, take warning, never admit.' – 'M', Play
Anthony Minghella has written many stage plays, including Child's Play, Whale Music and Made in Bangkok. He was voted Most Promising Playwright in 1984 by the London Theatre Critics, who also gave Made in Bangkok the Best New Play award in 1986. His first film as a writer/director – Truly, Madly,
Deeply – was a great success both in Britain and in the US, winning several awards. The English Patient, which he adapted for the screen and directed, has won more than 30 awards, including nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, two Golden Globe awards and six BAFTAs. The Talented Mr Ripley, which Anthony adapted for the screen and directed, was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay, and for seven BAFTAs, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
'My unfinished doctoral thesis was on Beckett. Play was the first play I ever directed, in a double bill with Happy Days. There was a time, for five years, when I read Beckett almost on a daily basis. The sense of language and poetry in his writing has been the single biggest influence on me as a writer.' – Anthony Minghella
Rockaby (running time: 14 minutes)
In Rockaby, which was written in English in 1980, an old woman dressed in a black evening dress rocks herself in a rocking chair while listening to her own recorded voice. The story tells of the character's seeking for another 'a little like' herself, in the outside world. The search ends as all the blinds are drawn and complete darkness descends.
'so in the end close of a long day went down in the end went down'
Richard Eyre was the artistic director of the Royal National Theatre from 1988 until 1997. During that period he directed Guys and Dolls, The Invention of Love; Richard III and Racing Demon, among others. He joined the BBC as producer of Play for Today in 1978. Productions included The Insurance Man (Tokyo World TV Festival Special Prize 1986); Tumbledown (RAI Prize, 1988; BAFTA Best Television Single Drama Award, 1989; Royal Television Society Award for Best Single Drama, 1989). His films include The Ploughman's Lunch (Evening Standard Film Award for Best Film, 1983) and Laughterhouse
(Venice Film Festival Award for Best Film, 1984).
Rough for Theatre I (running time: 20 minutes)
Written in French in the 1950s, Rough for Theatre I features a blind man ('A') and a physically disabled man ('B') who meet by chance and consider the possibility of joining forces to unite sight and mobility in the interests of survival. Each once had a woman and now has no one to help him. B is the pragmatist while A keeps asking questions. B is reticent, never seeming to have noticed these things. B becomes cranky, going as far as to strike A, but being crippled he also needs him. The play ends in uneasiness and latent violence.
'... It seems to me sometimes the earth must have got stuck, one sunless day, in the heart of winter, in the grey of evening ...' – 'A', Rough for Theatre I
Dublin-born Kieron J Walsh's first film was his graduation film Goodbye Piccadilly, which was awarded three Fuji film scholarships. He then won a British Council scholarship to study film at the Royal College of Art, where he won numerous international prizes for his graduation film Bossanova Blues, including the Golden Square award for Best Graduation Film and a gold plaque at the Chicago Film Festival. Kieron has directed films for Working Title and the BBC and a half-hour drama written by Roddy Doyle for RTÉ. He also directed three episodes of the popular A Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Rock Star. His first feature film was the highly acclaimed When Brendan Met Trudy, written by Roddy Doyle.
'I was quite daunted at the prospect of filming one of the plays, but when I read Rough for Theatre I, I immediately saw the cinematic possibilities. It reminded me a little of Laurel and Hardy, so I shot it on location – "Street corner: day" – in black and white.' – Kieron Walsh
Rough for Theatre II (running time: 30 minutes)
In Rough for Theatre II, written in French in the 1950s, two men, 'A' and 'B', try to assess the life of 'C', who is standing motionless, with his back to the audience, ready to jump out of the window. A and B review his life with mass documentation as though he were not present. The documents are mainly quotations from C's acquaintances. A and B consider the flotsam and jetsam of C's life including his confessed 'morbid sensitivity to the opinions of others'. Distracted by the electric light and the love-birds they find in a cage, they do not appear to be giving their task due concentration. They finally decide to let him jump, only to discover he is already dead.
'Ah if I were only twenty years younger I'd put an end to my sufferings!' – 'C', Rough for Theatre II
Award-winning director Katie Mitchell has worked with many of the UK's most renowned theatre companies. She directed the Royal Shakespeare Company productions of Uncle Vanya; Stars in the Morning Sky; Henry IV, and Phoenician Women, which earned her the 1996 Evening Standard Award for Best Director. For the Royal National Theatre she directed Rutherford and Son and The Machine Wreckers. She also directed Live like Pigs and The Country at the Royal Court Theatre. In 1996 she directed Endgame at the Donmar Warehouse, for which she received the Time Out Best Director Award.
'Beckett has that rare ability to capture our fleeting perceptions of the ridiculous and the despairing in a very taut form,' says Mitchell. 'We need a mirror to reflect our darker selves back to us and he is one of the few people who can do that. Film is an extraordinary medium which potentially allows you an increased palette with which to communicate this.'
That Time (running time: 20 minutes)
Similar to the formal experimentation of Play, That Time, written in English between 1974 and 1975, intercuts three monologues from three separate periods of time in the experience of one character. Only the Listener's face, surrounded by a shock of white hair, is visible. He is bombarded with three voices representing three different times in his past. Each voice, 'A', 'B', and 'C' recall separate stories. The pattern is precise, with each voice speaking four times during the course of each of three scenes, all of which are marked off by silences. The first and second scenes offer precise parallel patterns; the third offers a pattern repeated three times. Time and visions of nothingness burden each voice. At the end, the isolated head smiles at the prospect of happiness.
'That time you went back that last time to look was the ruin still there where you hid as a child that last time straight off the ferry …'
Charles Garrad's sculptural and environmental work, which has been shown all around the world, is concerned with time, memory, the atmospheric qualities of places and the significance of objects. His direction credits include Time Passing, a six-part series for BBC 2. As a designer he has worked on many films, including The Serpent's Kiss, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain and two films in the Beckett on Film project: Waiting for Godot and Act Without Words I. TV drama credits include the award-winning series Amongst Women.
'The choice of camera movements and the changes in picture size are subjective responses to the text. Audiences have said that they were able to see the thoughts in [the Listener's] mind as they watched, and I hope this is the reaction that we have managed to provoke with the film.'– Charles Garrad
Waiting for Godot (running time: 2 hours) in 2 parts
Waiting for Godot was written in French in 1949. In the first scene, two men, Vladimir and Estragon, wait on a lonely country road for an appointment with Godot. After a while Pozzo enters, leading Lucky on a rope. They talk. Godot fails to arrive. The second scene is a mirror image of the first. The Irish critic Vivian Mercier called Waiting for Godot a play in which 'nothing happens, twice'.
'Astride of a grave in a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave-digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. [He listens.] But habit is a great deadener.' – Vladimir, Waiting for Godot
New Yorker Michael Lindsay-Hogg's film credits as director include Let it Be, Two of Us, Alone, Frankie Starlight, Running Mates, The Object of Beauty and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, amongst many others.
'[In Waiting for Godot] Beckett creates an amazing blend of comedy, high wit and an almost unbearable poignancy in a funny yet heartbreaking image of man's fate. With the camera, you can pick those moments and emphasise them, making Beckett's rare and extraordinary words all the more intimate.' – Michael Lindsay-Hogg
What Where (running time: 12 minutes)
In What Where, written in English in 1983, four characters appear at intervals, all dressed in the same long grey gown with the same long grey hair. Bam controls and interrogates the others, sending them off 'to confess' to an unnamed crime. A seasonal cycle from spring to winter passes in the course of the play, with Bam repeating the same questions and actions.
'Time passes. That is all. Make sense who may. I switch off.' – Bam, What Where
Writer and director Damien O'Donnell is perhaps best known for his highly acclaimed 1999 feature-film East is East, which won the BAFTA award for Best British Film and was also the winner of PRIX MEDIA 2000. His previous film work includes: Chrono-Perambulator, a time-machine adventure spanning 400 years in 11 minutes, and Danger Doyle's Doo, a comedy set in the world of pigeon racing on the east coast of Scotland, written by Danny McCahon and screened as part of the Mind the Gap series on BBC Scotland. In 1995 Damien's short Thirty Five Aside, screened as part of The Talent short film festival on BBC2, won him a Best New Director award.
'There is a lot of menace in the play. What Where is about a brooding, palpable evil.' – Damien O'Donnell
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