Beckett & The Old Vic

By Niki Campbell, Content Manager @ Stagedoor.

Conceived, designed, created, passed from hand to hand, rebuilt, attacked, rebuilt, renamed, reimagined, redefined over 200 incredible years, The Old Vic still stands on The Cut; a pillar in London’s rich theatrical history.

Recognised in the early days for ‘bringing theatre to the common people’, The Old Vic now works with over 10,000 people each year from all ages and backgrounds on a professional, educational and community level. It has championed the careers of some incredible actors; Dame Judi Dench, Anthony Hopkins, Joan Plowright, Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith to name just a few. And through it’s many incarnations, from producing house to coffee tavern to performance hall, has housed some major companies including The Royal National Theatre and the beginnings of Dame Ninette de Valois’ Royal Ballet.

I think it’s worth mentioning too that in 1898 a 23 year old Lilian Baylis was appointed acting manager of The Royal Victoria Hall, which she later renamed The Old Vic. That’s a woman in charge some 20 years before women were even able to Vote in the UK. She went on to become artistic director and still remains a key character in the history of this pioneering theatre space.

Lilian baylis in wardrobe, 1920’s

“The Old Vic is pre-eminently the place for artistic experiment, even if some eggshells of prejudice have to be smashed in the process” — John Gielgud, 1929

And here we are in 2016 at the start of the second season of The Old Vic’s most recent artistic director, Matthew Warchus.

The season opens this week with a limited two week run of No’s Knife, a selection from Samuel Beckett’s previously un-staged Texts For Nothing, conceived and performed by Lisa Dwan, co-directed by Joe Murphy.

Lisa Dwan in No’s Knife

Raise your hand if you hear ‘Beckett’ and you panic, just a little bit…You wouldn’t be alone.

Many actors, Dwan included, have described an initial fear of his work; a fear of not understanding it or misinterpreting his words. But ultimately all share a deep love for him and his work.

In the past, I confess, I have shied away from Beckett and his more absurdist works. This was largely due to a fear of ‘not getting it’, an anxiety about my lack of literary intellect and, in part, laziness, born out of the assumption that to enjoy his work would require a huge amount of reading and studying modernism.

“An awful lot of people think Beckett’s for the intellectuals or the academics…I think Beckett’s a lot more visceral, immediate and more guttural than that” — Lisa Dwan

By Beckett’s own ruling, the text is set and the direction must not be changed, but the space for interpretation is limitless. The characteristic break-neck pace of works such as Not I and Play have a dizzying effect that leave one able only to pick out snippets of text which speak to them.

As Dwan points out, Beckett was writing these stories during a time when Europe was trying to understand itself again after the war. He couldn’t be more relevant today as we find ourselves once again in the throes of change and confusion in Europe.

Regardless of whether you’re a Beckett fan or a Beckett virgin, No’s Knife promises to be a feast for the eyes and ears. Listen, search, question, absorb and whilst you’re there enjoy this building’s stunning design and complex history.

Filled with piercing insight, rage, wit and humour, No’s Knife is an extraordinary journey into the heart of Beckett, unlocking his contemporary relevance to gender, identity and the human condition. It is an invitation to look at ourselves, and to ask who, or whom, am I?

From Thu 29 Sep — Sat 15 Oct @ The Old Vic Theatre, Book Now

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