Stage struck

Even Beck­ett plays the slain game, says Peter Craw­ley

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION -

Two tired, wan­der­ing fig­ures ar­rive at a des­o­late place. Here they find a man, slumped out­side his ran­sacked home, slowly bleed­ing to death. To judge from his ex­pres­sion, he seems rea­son­ably put out by the whole thing. “You shouldn’t be sit­ting out here like this,” one vis­i­tor ad­vises. “Where else to sit?” he re­sponds.

And so be­gins one of the most un­likely jux­ta­po­si­tions (and lov­ing in-jokes) in must-see TV: an episode of Game of Thrones with guest writ­ing by Sa­muel Beck­ett.

At least, that’s the tone. Broad­cast in the US a cou­ple of weeks ago, these three min­utes of the fa­mously bloody, reg­u­larly pervy fan­tasy show took what must have seemed to many view­ers like a bizarre de­tour. Over the course of four se­ries, ma­jor char­ac­ters have been abruptly dis­patched with a sud­den swoop of a blade or the gur­gle of poi­son. Here was the med­i­ta­tive death of a cameo.

The Dy­ing Man was played by Barry McGovern, our pre-em­i­nent Beck­ett per­former, grave and grav­elly, and gamely re­tained to talk about point­less­ness and per­sis­tence. Those are qual­i­ties that any­one this far into GoT re­ally ought to con­sider.

“So, why go on?” asks Arya Stark. “Habit,” the Dy­ing Man says. That’s as neat an ex­pla­na­tion of liv­ing as it is for box-set com­pul­sive­ness. Sure, it’s a lift (“Habit is a great dead­ener,” says Vladimir in Wait­ing for Godot), but noth­ing in GoT is likely to sur­pass it.

There are other echoes of theatre: Arya – bru­tally or­phaned, dis­guised (badly) as a boy and out to avenge her mur­dered fam­ily – could be a nod to the works of Shake­speare. Her dou­ble- act with the Hound, a fear­some mer­ce­nary, is char­ac­terised by so much wait­ing and bit­ter re­join­ders you could al­ready call it Beck­et­tian. But does GoT de­serve the as­so­ci­a­tion?

There’s prob­a­bly real af­fec­tion in the grab. The show’s cre­ators, Dan Weiss and David Be­nioff, met as grad­u­ate stu­dents at TCD, where Be­nioff wrote his the­sis on Beck­ett. “Noth­ing could be worse than this,” coun­sels Arya. “Maybe noth­ing is worse than this,” says the Dy­ing Man and, for a while, Beck­ett makes for good tele­vi­sion.

Oddly, that’s rarely the case with Beck­ett’s own TV writ­ing. Last week, Pan Pan and IMDT pre­sented a bril­liant work­shop per­for­mance of Quad, Beck­ett’s move­ment sys­tem for four per­form­ers pur­su­ing a math­e­mat­i­cal course through a square struc­ture, ap­proach­ing – but never meet­ing – each other at its cen­tre (“a dan­ger zone”).

The Dublin Dance Fes­ti­val per­for­mance was il­lu­mi­nat­ing in ev­ery field, but one an­i­ma­tion re­minded you of an ex­is­ten­tial ver­sion of Pac­man. And it may have been de­lib­er­ate: The high cul­ture of Beck­ett has of­ten found easy pur­chase in mass cul­ture. Think of Se­same Street’s Wait­ing for Elmo or the schol­arly ex­e­ge­sis, Quad I and Tele­tub­bies or: “Ais­thetic” Panop­ti­cism Ver­sus Read­ing Beck­ett.

You think this can’t go on? It will go on. (The Happy Days Fes­ti­val is right around the cor­ner.) Beck­ett, it seems, is every­where: per­haps it’s a good habit.

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