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Conor Lovett: 'We're only beginning to catch up with Beckett's work'

We speak to the actor and artistic director of Gare St Lazare Ireland about Beckett in London, currently running at Print Room at the Coronet

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Conor Lovett in The End
© Shane G. Mahon

What is Beckett in London?

It's a three week festival at Print Room at the Coronet featuring four of Gare St Lazare Ireland's Beckett productions. It features music, visual art and a series of public conversations by artists, practitioners and academics around Beckett's influence on the arts today. Beckett is primarily regarded as a playwright however he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his novels and prose and this is an opportunity to encounter those texts on stage. It's a pretty good way to become reasonably familiar with Beckett's work.

Why did you choose to interpret Beckett's work in this way?

Beckett himself might be said to have begun the tradition of putting his non-dramatic work on stage when he worked with the great Irish actor Jack MacGowran in the Sixties to mount several solo shows including End of Day and Beginning To End. Judy Hegarty [the director] and I have spent over 20 years immersed in Beckett's work. It wasn't a plan that we set out to do all these and it's been a privilege to be able to do it.

What do you find so appealing about Beckett's work?

It's very hard for me to put my finger on what it is. The Irish Beckett scholar Gerry Dukes has said that practically any sentence in Beckett's oeuvre is 'a language event'. That resonates for me. There is an artistry that is so skilled, expressive, playful, inventive and informed. Beckett has also been described as uncategorisable. He really has created his own thing yet it is fully grounded in, and informed by, all the great Western art, music and literature that happened before his time.

Why do you think his work is still so popular today?

Probably because we're only beginning to catch up with it. Beckett's work was never popular really, it will be quite a while before it becomes popular. However there is an increasing number of people who are curious or who have gotten a taste and realize that this Beckett is a major humanist and his work is a genuine companion to those of us who have abandoned the so-called faith of our forebears.

A lot of the Beckett productions you get to hear about are because either there are stars involved or they are genuinely touching people. Popular? I don't think so.

Do you have a particular favourite?

I love them all equally but in this Festival I confess I'm very excited about Here All Night which is a piece that we created and Beckett's involvement is more as a collaborator. Here All Night was conceived by Judy Hegarty Lovett, composer Paul Clark, musician Caoimhin O'Raghallaigh and myself. Paul Clark, joint artistic director of Clod Ensemble, has a deep understanding of Beckett's work and has written the most gorgeous score with certain parts written especially for the musicians Chris Allan, John Paul Gandy and Cleek Schrey - the ensemble of musicians and singers is very special. It also features music by Beckett himself that appears in [Beckett's novel] Watt as well as texts that I perform among the music.

It's less a story than an experience. Singer Melanie Pappenheim brings an exquisite quality to singing the songs and verse that turns up across Beckett's work. We performed it at Brighton Festival in 2013 and at Lincoln Center, New York last year however for Beckett in London we have a new visual dimension whereby the distinguished Irish artist Brian O'Doherty has collaborated with elements of his piece Hello, Sam redux, which is also open to the public during the day from Monday to Thursday each week.

Tell us a bit more about Gare St Lazare Ireland

We are an Irish company, we're 20 years old, we've toured to over 80 cities in 25 countries around the world. We actually produced our first Beckett solo, Molloy, while living in London in 1996, so it's very exciting to be back here 20 years later with a kind of retrospective and new work too. We don't only do Beckett (but mostly), we've also produced Title and Deed by Will Eno, a solo Moby Dick and we're currently working towards a new play by Carmel Winters and a very ambitious and exciting work How It Is, by Samuel Beckett, his last full length novel which famously has no punctuation whatsoever. Watch this space.

Why should people book tickets for Beckett in London?

Many reasons. To get a taste of contemporary Irish theatre practice. To see the work of the great Judy Hegarty. If you love your Beckett already you'll know that any opportunity to see or hear his words offers great rewards. If you never ‘got' Beckett or have wondered what's all the fuss I would say this; imagine there's a retrospective of Picasso or Monet on, a series of concerts by Beethoven or Bach being performed, expose yourself to Beckett's work just to know. You may find yourself very, very surprised to discover that the work is human, funny, uplifting, celebratory, challenging. In this Shakespeare year, why not learn more about the writer that the Irish consider our great, great modern Bard.

Beckett in London runs at Print Room at the Coronet until 5 June 2016.

You can read our five star review of The End here