Last time someone ‘breathed new life’ into Beckett they were issued an injunction. In 2006 a theatre company in Italy staged a performance of Waiting for Godot starring two women as Vladimir and Estragon, whilst lawyers representing Beckett’s estate begged them to stop.
Apparently he wouldn’t have approved. The impossibly detailed performance instructions that usually accompany Beckett’s work don’t allow much possibility for re-imagining. He’s one of these wacky modernist writers, sure, but when it came to how his writing should manifest onstage he was unusually strict. Yet this is a necessary condition of his language and universe. To contravene it is either to do something ignorant and insolent, or do something very special indeed.
d’Aminate have achieved the latter. Choosing to perform Roughs for Theatre I and II together at all is an interesting move; these two pieces are little-known and very difficult to juxtapose in a way that suggests that they might be related. Rather than tweak the pieces themselves, Adam El Hagar and Michael Rivers separate them with a devised physical piece in which the world of the first play melts into the second.
I’ve seen several ‘devised’ and ‘physical’ pieces before. They hardly ever work. Still, with this one, it clicked. It was two people moving physically through ideas. Physical poetry! Yes, actually, it kind of was.
Roughs I is a piece about the necessity of company to give existence meaning. It’s moving, funny and bizarre in that very special Beckett combination. Roughs II is less comprehensible: two bureaucrats discuss a man’s imminent suicide, exchanging banalities and non sequiturs. A light keeps going out. But even without the intriguing sandwich piece this is excellent Beckett: El Hagar and Rivers are exceptional actors, possessed by the humour and pathos necessary to make these pieces work. If this performance of Roughs I and II were presented simply as is, there would be a similar number of stars at the top of this page.
Roughs demonstrates that d’Aminate is a special partnership and a company to look out for. Doing new things with Beckett shouldn’t really be possible, but El Hagar and Rivers show that with the right combination of bravery and intelligence it is still possible to present these works in new and relevant ways. Beckett’s lawyers should have no trouble with this excellent piece of theatre.