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‘Rockaby’: Billie Whitelaw stars in Samuel Beckett’s play

Billie Whitelaw stars in Samuel Beckett’s one-woman play Rockaby, which was written in 1980 at the request of Daniel Labeille, to tie-in with a festival and symposium celebrating Beckett’s 75th birthday.

The play focuses on a woman (W),who contemplates her life, and the loss of the things she had been unable to do, leaving her gently, slowly, to her own lonely demise.

““went and sat/at her window/facing other windows/so in the end/close of a long day/in the end went and sat/went back in and sat/at her window”

The play uses repetition, in a similar way a lullaby uses it to comfort a child, but here its purpose is to underscore Beckett’s view of the terrible loneliness and emptiness of the human condition. W searches for some positive affirmation of her life - “a little like.” The chair rocks in time with the words, as if its movement comforts and maintains her life. A dark, and many layered play, that rewards with a second viewing.

As for Whitelaw, she is, as always in Beckett’s plays, perfect.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Behind-the-Scenes: Alfred Hitchcock Directs ‘Frenzy’ in 1972

Incredible behind-the-scenes footage of Alfred Hitchcock directing Frenzy from 1972.

Frenzy was greatly undervalued on its initial cinematic release - considered by many as too dark, unnecessarily seedy, and not worthy of Hitchcock’s talents, but I always thought it a superbly suspenseful and complex film that captured the lonely heart at the center of our everyday world. Taken form the novel by Arthur La Bern, Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square (which is worth reading), it was Hitchcock’s last great film, and contained some exceptionally fine characterizations by Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Anna Massey, Billie Whitelaw and in particular Alec McCowen as Chief Inspector Oxford.

The sound quality is non-existent, but just enjoy the pictures.

With thanks to Nellym

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Billie Whitelaw’s stunning performance in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Not I’, 1973

The actress Billie Whitelaw couldn’t imagine what it was like. The theater darkened, apart from a spotlight on Whitelaw’s mouth, as she delivered Samuel Beckett’s babbling stream of consciousness Not I.

It’s one of the most disturbing images in theater: a disembodied mouth, telling its tale “at the speed of thought.” It takes incredible discipline and strength for the actor to perform: the text isn’t easy to learn, its full of difficult instructions, pauses, repetitions and disjointed phrases; add to this the speed of delivery, which means the actor has to learn circular breathing in order to deliver the lines. Jessica Tandy once gave a performance that lasted twenty-four minutes, only to be told by Beckett that she had “ruined” his play. And let’s not forget the rigidity of the piece: the actor’s lack of mobility, the mouth tethered to a spotlight, all of which says everything for Whitelaw’s brilliance as an actor.

Here, Whitelaw introduces Not I in the short documentary, A Wake for Sam, and explains the effect it had on her:

Plenty of writers can write a play about a state of mind, but [Beckett] actually put that state of mind on the stage, in front of your eyes. And I think a lot of people recognized it. I recognized it. When I first read it at home, I just burst in to tears, because I recognized the inner scream. Perhaps that’s not what it is, I don’t know, but for me, that’s what I recognized, an inner scream, in there, and no escaping it.


Previously on DM

Samuel Beckett speaks

With thanks to Tim Lucas

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