A Certain Confusion

Thoughts of a writer of sorts

Month: May, 2009


Back in London after a couple of days in Cambridge. Sophie and I went up to look after her (our) nephews while their parents were in New York at a wedding (not a bad way to spend a long weekend). In fact, I’m here on my own as I have work in the morning whereas Sophie is looking after the two boys and our very own Edie for another night.

We had a great time, although Edie is struggling to sleep at the moment and quite possibly swallowed a magnet. We must remember to check that out before we put her through any security scanners….

But it’s curious that Cambridge is now linked more in my mind with my sister-in-law’s lovely family than it is with my undergraduate years there. Curious, but also pleasing. University obviously feels very important to 18-year-olds, but I didn’t have a great time there – socially or academically – at least until my final year, when I realised there was more going on than my degree.

And while I suspect having Cambridge on my CV has helped me get a few job interviews (and possibly jobs), it was the experience of not getting the most out of my BA degree that stayed with me, rather than the studying I did. But that experience has given me a sense of the importance of learning – which I didn’t really have when I went to university – and means I’m keen on doing more studying, even though I don’t think I’m cut out to be (an) academic.

Studying – close reading on and around a subject and pulling on stray threads of thought until the jumper is perilously close to unravelling – is important in my writing. I don’t want to become an expert particularly (although secretly, yes, I do), and I know my knowledge of a subject is not stringent but hopelessly, subjectively personal. But it allows me to construct a ‘world-view’ of the world within a project, which, in turn, allows construction of the play.


Starting with Beckett

Whence a certain confusion in the exordia, long enough to situate the condemned and prepare him for execution.

This is a quote from “The Unnameable” by Samuel Beckett. It has provided me with a name for this blog, so it seems fitting that the first post should relate to Beckett. But before that, there’s just time to say that, while I hope writing a regular blog will help me get back into the habit of expressing my ideas and plans with a view to creating some thing, I want the posts to be of interest to you, the almost inevitably accidental reader. So let me know what you think.

So I saw “Waiting for Godot” last week. Beckett’s most famous play, it is famous for being indecipherable, or genius, or whatever you think as long as it’s difficult to ‘get’. It is also famous for being a play in which “nothing happens. Twice.” I’ve read it before, but never seen it performed on stage. This production is at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, and stars some pretty big names: Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Simon Callow and Ronald Pickup. I was worried they would be too hammy, overdo the ac-Tor-ing, play at ‘doing’ Beckett.

I shouldn’t have worried. They were fantastic, particularly McKellen as Estragon, playing with a light touch and immaculate control. And Callow was born to play Pozzo.

It’s too many days later for me to write a proper review. Michael Billington gives a good appraisal on the Guardian‘s website. But he felt the all-star cast does get away with some undue Thespian business:

But Sean Mathias’s production not only includes superfluous Goon Show-type sound effects but also permits its two lead actors to get away with a good deal of showbiz shtick. At times I felt the evening was closer to Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, about the reunion of two old vaudevillians, than to Beckett’s tragic vision of humanity.

I agree with his comment about the sound effects. The sound design was very odd, and not in a particularly effective way as far as I was concerned. But on the showbiz schtick, well, I think Beckett is all about the humour. His novels are full of it and his plays too – it’s only po-faced readings by serious folk that render the comedy entirely pathetic instead of being the vital driving force of the ‘tragic vision’. I find this in James Joyce as well. It’s funny. And that doesn’t undermine the tragedy, it heightens it and softens you up for the hard punch of Sisyphus’s legacy – the grinding reality of a life that submits to monotonous repetition.

Of course, the repetition in Waiting for Godot (the second round of “nothing”) is not monotonous. The differences are perhaps slight, but in this limited universe, the changes are earth-shattering – as well as being all but insignificant to the characters. It leaves the audience not knowing, which has to be a good thing.