Beckett and his prison(s)

Yesterday at “La Planeta” theatre hall in Girona, I saw “Krapp’s last tape”, directed by Samuel Beckett himself and performed by Rick Cluchey, from the San Quentin Drama Workshop.

After the play, we had the privilege of discussing with Mr. Cluchey. The story of this man is quite fantastic. Imprisoned for armed robbery at the San Quentin state prison, he discovers Beckett’s plays during his 10 years of cell. Luckily, his cell was close enough to the yard where the people were acting, so he could hear it. Apparently, in a contradictory way, the imprisoned could not hear anything from the plays. Little by little he comes to like theater and Beckett’s world especially.

He played Beckett’s plays 7 times while in prison. Beckett never came to see them because, as Mr. Cluchey told us, he said that the representation was for the actors. If he were to be in the room, all the audience would watch him and ignore the actors…would you have expected this from Beckett? Therefore, they met at “Deux maggots cafe” in Paris. And this way, Rick Cluchey became one of the few people directed by Beckett.

Cluchey let us in on some little secrets about working with Beckett. For example, recording the 17 minutes tape used in “Krapp’s last tape” took 3 days in Berlin. He made Cluchey memorize the text, he wasn’t allowed to read, and he would stand behind a glass wall and continuously tell Cluchey he was doing everything wrong. We also found out that Beckett, in Paris, lived above a prison, where every morning groups of people gathered to see how the prisoners were executed…Perhaps it’s one of the reasons why all Beckett’s characters are, somehow, in a prison: under the sand, in trash cans, prisoners of failure…

Like Krapp. He fails in his career, as a lover, as a person. Every year for his birthday, he returns to record a new tape and listen to the one from the previous year. Despair, sadness, feelings of regret, guilt…the playing machine becomes an object of love, all the gestures are exaggerated. A body inside its own prison, a powerful actor always present and making you enter the difficult world of Beckett’s characters.

As Cluchey tells us, man was a tragic figure for Beckett. Maybe it’s because of this that the majority of actors interpreting Beckett characters are “clowning” all the times. How can you make this tragic human figure less tragic? Using the clown, who tries to hide all his sadness underneath a happy face make-up…

Congratulations, Mr. Cluchey, maybe you are one of the few who managed to meet Godot and to fulfill your destiny, both personally and professionally!


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