About Me


I am a Doctoral Student in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge researching the theatre of Samuel Beckett. From 2014 to 2018 I attended the University of Nottingham, focusing on Modernist Anglophone literature and Performance Studies. After completing my BA, I studied for an MPhil in Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University of Cambridge, writing my dissertation thesis on the concept of liveness as it pertains to Samuel Beckett’s theatrical practice. During my MPhil year, I chaired the Faculty of English Graduate Conference and convened a weekly workshop focused on Beckett’s dramaturgy in Lent term. I am currently editing three works by Samuel Beckett for the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project (http://www.beckettarchive.org)Ohio Impromptu/ Impromptu d’Ohio, A Piece of Monologue/ Solo, and Come and Go/ Va et vient. Outside of my research, I tutor A-Level English and Drama in the Cambridge area.

PhD Thesis: Samuel Beckett’s Dramaturgy: 1946-1984

Samuel Beckett directed fifteen stage productions of his own plays in France, Germany and England between the years 1967 and 1984. Here he developed a distinct dramaturgy through performance that remains neglected by critics, as noted by the theatre scholar Stanley Gontarski: ‘Beckett’s work as a theatrical director is still undervalued and so under-researched’.[1] I intend to read these productions as the development of a performance aesthetic within, through and for theatre. Unlike practitioners such as Brecht and Artaud, Beckett did not write theoretical reflections on directing nor systematise his particular approach to theatre; his ideas about performance were instead developed through theatrical practice. I therefore propose to study the complex process of staging to discern the underpinning dramaturgy of his works, their relational structures in the space and time of theatre. In so doing, I aim to assess Beckett’s aesthetic legacy and contribution to the late modernist and postmodernist theatre through attending specifically to the practical aspects of directing, acting, designing and lighting, the four aspects of theatre around which I will structure my thesis due to their centrality in the construction of a theatre aesthetic. This will involve working closely with the plethora of archival materials that document Beckett’s work in the theatre to excavate the principles that underly his practice. Beckett will here emerge as an individual embedded in the collaborative processes of theatrical production, embracing the complexity and difficulties of the artform. This process was at times riddled with frustrations and failures for Beckett, but he showed a deep pleasure for those moments in which the contingency of theatre unveiled something about the work. Theatre was for him a space within which the work could slowly emerge into being and reveal itself, ‘for every work, if not every fruitful idea, is hidden from itself; it is never transparent to itself’.[2] For this reason, I take issue with the idea that Beckett’s productions were the realisation of his vision of the plays manifest in space and time. I argue instead that his ideas did not precede the work he carried out to stage the plays but materialised in this very process.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Beckett’s theatre was read through and distorted by the paradigm of Brechtian aesthetics by critics such as Martin Esslin. In more recent years, his theatre practice has been considered a significant development in the history of twentieth-century performance in its own right, necessitating a specific vocabulary to explore this work. This vocabulary has been developed by critics such as Ruby Cohn, Enoch Brater, Dougald McMillan, Martha Fehsenfeld, and Anna McMullen over the last three decades. Further, the theatre scholars Nicholas Johnson and Jonathan Heron argue that Beckett’s theatre offers ‘an integrated and porous exchange between schools that are not as separate as they first seem’, drawing attention to the intersection of many performance practices within Beckett’s work that can be articulated through a combination of different performance theories.[3] This was also the view of Jonathan Kalb in a formative study of Beckett’s work in performance published in 1989. Kalb argued that ‘Beckett really represents a third category situated between Stanislavski and Brecht because of the way he renders the presentational and representational indistinguishable’.[4] This suggests that Beckett’s productions offer a theoretical contribution to twentieth-century theatre practice through putting into play certain ideas about performance. Interestingly, Beckett tentatively encouraged this critical assessment through inviting academic friends into the rehearsal room and donating his theatrical notebooks to the archive, meaning that his work in the theatre is well documented. He even went so far as to authorise revised versions of the texts that follow his notes and productions, participating in the dissemination of documents that challenge the idea of a definitive text. Despite this, his own productions are often overlooked and thus the variable textuality of his plays has been widely ignored.

I seek to build on this existing critical literature through historicising Beckett’s work in the theatre to examine his relation to other theatre practitioners of the twentieth century. Emily Morin argues that Beckett’s work raises ‘powerful questions about the nature of representation and of the theatrical event’.[5] It will be the argument of my thesis that the theatre space was a key locus of this aesthetic questioning for Beckett in the years 1967 to 1984. His theatre work thus belongs to an avant-garde tradition of experimentation that used the mechanism of theatre to interrogate questions of performance aesthetics. This experimental approach allowed the potential of Beckett’s theatre works to emerge through their embodiment: of necessity each production demanded that he make decisions that were left open by the texts. This was an iterative and collaborative process that involved reworking the plays for each production to make decisions about how they would be performed in the material conditions of a specific theatre space. Such a process shows that theatre is a space of finitude in which meaning becomes contingent upon embodiment; Beckett moves beyond his texts in the pursuit of the play’s substantiation in space and time. Steven Connor argues that performance puts the text to death through making actual its potential: ‘In seeming to bring a text to life, performance puts it to death, the death of the choice irrevocably made, the potential assassinated into the actual’.[6] I will thus attend to the material conditions of Beckett’s productions to explore the movement from potential to actual in his dramaturgical process, exploring the ways in which this process opens out onto a different kind of potential grounded in the materiality of theatre. This complex process of staging shows Beckett’s attempts to discern and deconstruct the underpinning structures of the plays and so develop a theatre practice that allows him to realise the plays in performance.

This project is supervised by Dr. Zoë Svendsen and is funded by the Jebb Fund and Jesus College Cambridge.

References

[1] Stanley Gontarski, ‘The Beckettian Text, Printed and Performed’, Journal of Beckett Studies, 24:1 (2015), 104-115 (p. 108).

[2] Theodor W. Adorno, Notes to Literature, Vol. II, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, tr. Shierry Weber Nicholson, European Perspectives (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), p. 4.

[3] Nicholas E. Johnson and Jonathan Heron, Experimental Beckett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), p. 16.

[4] Jonathan Kalb, Beckett in Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 38.

[5] Emilie Morin, ‘Endgame and Shorter Plays: Religious, Political and Other Readings’, in The New Cambridge Companion to Samuel Beckett, ed. by Dirk Van Hulle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 60-72 (p. 66).

[6] Steven Connor, ‘Polyphiloprogenitive: Towards a General Performativity’, Beyond the Authority of the ‘Text’: Performance as Paradigm, Past and Present, CRASSH, Cambridge, 16 April 2013. Available at http://stevenconnor.com/polyphiloprogenitive.html [Accessed 16 April 2020].