Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Interview with Conor Lovettist

Exiles, Evictees, and the 'Harrowing Comedy' of Beckett's Malone Dies

Tonight at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, the Gare Saint-Lazare Players will present their original adaptation of Samuel Beckett's novel Malone Dies. The play is directed by Judy Heggarty, and acted, solo, by Conor Lovett. Malone Dies is the second part of the Beckett trilogy that includes Molloy (Haggerty and Lovett's previous project) and The Unnameable, which they will attempt sometime in the near future. I had the opportunity to speak with Lovett about this ambitious project.

Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable are novellas, written in French, but Lovett performs them in English as stage plays. I asked him which translation he uses, and who is responsible for the adaptation? He explained that Beckett worked with a translator in converting Molloy into English. Probably, Lovett guessed, most of the first English translation is Beckett's work, and he left the translator's name on the title page out of courtesy. Malone Dies and The Unnameable were translated by Beckett himself, as were several of his plays and other prose works. As for the translation from page to stage, Lovett explained: "Judy Heggarty and I, we did the adaptation ourselves." He added that Molloy began as a somewhat spontaneous project, which "happened quite organically as a sideline when there were other things going on."

The piece we will see tonight is an abridgement as well as an adaptation; but Lovett hopes that his auditors will be captivated by this taste of Beckett's story, and will perhaps read the rest of the trilogy themselves. One objective, although certainly not the entire purpose of this project is to dispel the myth that Beckett is frightening, boring, or intentionally, hopelessly inaccessible. This is not an easy endeavour when people expect Beckett's writing to be is "depressing" and "bleak," and, as Lovett admits, "we have to try to sell the show." Personally, I have found parts of the trilogy, of Endgame, Waiting for Godot, and Eléutheria definitely comic, although of the species of comedy that Ionesco defined as "the laughter in the labyrinth."

"Molloy fits more blatantly into the tragi-comic," Lovett answered. "Malone Dies has comedy in it, [but] it is harrowing comedy."

In his performances, does Lovett show the decrepitude and restricted motion characteristic of Beckett's Methuseleian characters? "No," he answered. "We decided not to go down that road." A one-man play featuring a man who can hardly move and, as Lovett pointed out, scribbles his story but does not speak, is not what he and Haggerty intended to create. "If you did that," he reasoned, "it would become incomprehensible."

In the original novel, Malone, who is locked into a small room for reasons that are never entirely explained, declares: "This room seems to be mine. I can find no other explanation for my being left in it." Place, ownership of place, incarceration, eviction, and exile weigh heavily on the inhabitants of all the spaces in Beckett's world. I asked Lovett what he has done with the concept of place and place-claiming in Malone Dies. He laughed, and replied: "I certainly haven't given it enough thought," but he recommended another Beckett novella which deals with this issue, The Expelled. Another of Lovett's favourite Beckett works, The Expelled is, in the actor's estimation, "about being ejected from a place."

I brought up Dic Edwards' concept of the "theatre of evictees." Lovett agreed there may be similarities between Edwards' "evictees," the concept of exile in and by language, the struggle against linguistic and cultural homelessness, which Beckett battled with in his writing and his life. Lovett adds: "You can take this further. Beckett was a Protestant in Ireland. He would have been in a minority, admittedly, a privileged minority, but still a minority." An exile, I suggested, in any place he inhabited? Lovett thought that may have been Beckett's situation, then timidly likened it to his own. "I am an exile, if you like," he confessed. "I have lived in France-I have lived outside Ireland since I have been an adult."

In Lovett's view, "Beckett's writing, and Irish writing is so beautiful… as a result of this conflict, of struggling with a tongue that isn't your own … English as it is spoken in Ireland, 'Hibernal English,' as it has been called, contains direct translations from Irish, ways of using the language that are taken from the Irish. For example… "I'm after having a cup of tea."

Does Beckett write in "Hibernal French" as well as Hibernal English? Lovett couldn't answer this one, but agreed that it was an interesting question. He wondered out loud if the same phenomenon occurs when English is spoken and written in Wales.

I expect Lovett's performance this evening will be as interesting and thought-provoking as this conversation. As we discussed Malone Dies, its author, and the struggle to claim and use language and space, I could see the shadows of Ed Thomas' Trampas and Belle, and of the tempest-tossed exile Samwell in Ian Rowlands' Pacific, falling across the floor of Malone's room. Perhaps, tonight, this play will put Cymru and Ireland in the same room, and build an imaginary bridge across the sea that is visible from so many points in Aberystwyth. But, as Lovett advised, there are many ways to see Malone Dies, to read it, to enjoy it and to explore and surrender oneself to its enigmas.

author:Rebecca Nesvet

original source:
09 March 2001


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