Thursday, April 06, 2006

Beckett's Wireless

Some of you may have thought I was being a little rough on poor old Sam Beckett recently when I suggested that most people – despite the onslaught of the Beckett Centenary Festival which is happening all around us – would pass up on the chance for their own, er, personal encounter with one of his plays.

And press images of Bono cosying up to the writer (or at least, a giant photo of him) may have put even more people off. OK, I know Beckett is dead, but really, he should be more careful about the company he’s keeping these days. Anyone, dead or alive, whose big chums include Bono and Michael Colgan has got issues…except Paul McGuinness, of course, he’s cool.

But the truth is, Beckett himself was not so bound to the theatre that he was blind to the mass media all around him. In particular, he wrote some of his finest work for… radio. Now all of his radio writings – a total of six original plays – will be broadcast on RTE1 as part of the Beckett Centenary, in productions created with the Gare St Lazare Players and directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett.

It was John Gielgud (via the BBC) who first inspired Beckett to write specifically for the radio in 1956. But as soon as the idea was implanted, Beckett himself seemed to grasp what was required as surely as greedy Chris Moyles. He told a friend that in the dead of the night following Gielgud’s hint, he had “a nice gruesome idea, full of cartwheels and dragging feet and puffing and panting.”

When it came to it, there was so much innovation required to record All That Fall, Beckett’s first radio play at the BBC, that it gave birth to a whole new department, the now famous Radiophonic Workshop. Yes, the very same organisation that was later responsible for the sound of Doctor Who.

But having taken all that trouble creating a new world of sound, Beckett became typically fussy about how an audience would experience it. At one stage, he was so irritated by the poor reception, he even planned to travel from Paris to London just so that he could get better reception for a broadcast of one of his works.

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