The Beckett on Film project (2000) adapted all nineteen of Beckett’s theatre works, creating screen versions that were shown at film festivals, as television broadcasts, sold as a DVD box set and distributed via online video streaming. This chapter argues that these evolutions of the project are more significant than simply repackaging the content produced in one medium for distribution in another. Rather, they work with and reflect on the borders between mediums, and the ways that creative works fit into new medial environments. Beckett on Film can be seen not as a fixed text (or collection of texts), but as a mobile and mutable work that changes in relation to medium and audience, with different spatial and temporal specificities across the history of these adaptation processes. The chapter traces the British and Irish stories of how the Blue Angel production company, the Irish broadcaster RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) and the British Channel 4 television channel framed Beckett on Film in its various manifestations. The chapter addresses the project’s genesis, production, scheduling for cinema and its television screenings to specialist, general and then educational audiences. It also considers how the project’s adaptation into the ‘new’ media of DVD and online video framed the series as a cultural asset and a prestige collectable, aligning it with discourses of taste and connoisseurship. The chapter makes the case for Beckett on Film’s resilience and its fit with an emergent culture of media convergence in which medial boundaries are being renegotiated.
From the literary corpus to the transmedia archive
David Houston Jones
This chapter considers ‘borderline’ forms of Beckettian adaptation in new media art and video games. Linda Hutcheon’s classic account defines adaptation as an ‘extended, deliberate, announced revisitation of a particular work of art’. Hutcheon’s emphasis on scope presents Beckettian adaptation with significant problems: self-conscious reference to fragmentation and ending is common within Beckett’s body of work itself, and spreads to later adaptations. Recent new media work revisits such problems in citational titles or, more broadly, in the exploitation of a universe or ‘heterocosm’ which is recognisably ‘Beckettian’. This chapter considers two simulations by the artist John Gerrard – Exercise (Djibouti) (2012) and Exercise (Dunhuang) (2014) – and, finally, James Meek’s Beckett (2018), in which the Beckettian ironies of voice and narration are recontextualised in gameplay characterised by a searching enquiry into media. New media forms complicate storytelling (one of the key preoccupations of many theories of adaptation) with a reflexive attention to the target medium and sometimes elaborate a vast secondary architecture based on fragmentary reference to source material. The seemingly infinite scale of the game world is matched by an impression of endless duration, as the simulation unfolds according to multiple variables, and of a potentially infinite number of iterations. I analyse the construction of a Beckettian heterocosm in the light of the notion of the transmedia archive, in which ‘adaptations’ are reconceived not as versions of a pre-existing essence but rather as instances in the iterative, diachronic elaboration of the work.
The conceptual frameworks through which we understand human corporeality and agency are under stress and need now to be reconfigured. The chapter examines theories of the posthuman, particularly those of Rosi Braidotti and Donna Haraway, to analyse how two exemplars – Rebecca Horn and Jess Thom – draw on Samuel Beckett’s work to question normative categories of human embodiment. It explores the interface between the machinic, the prosthetic and the corporeal in Horn’s body sculptures and machine installations (1970–2010) and examines how neurodiverse theatre performance reconfigures modalities of subjectivity and agency in Jess Thom’s Touretteshero production of Not I (2017), drawing into the discussion an analysis of ideas of silence and the somatic in Anne Niemetz and Andrew Pelling’s sound work Dark Side of the Cell (2004). The chapter concludes that the mutability of contemporary art is an essential experimental space for performative adaptation within posthumanism.
This chapter re-examines Beckett’s 1950s coining of the terms ‘adaphatroce’, which could best be paraphrased as ‘dreadful’ or ‘atrocious adaptation’, to argue that it does not signify a wholesale rejection of creative responses to his work but rather constitutes the starting point of a gradual embrace, at least an acceptance or recognition of the phenomenon as a powerful cultural force. By critically assessing his comments on the matter as they appear in published letters from the 1950s to the 1980s, touching upon various genres and media, the chapter attempts to reconstruct Beckett’s implicit ‘poetics’ of adaptation and illustrate how it aligns with key notions such as self-translation, self-directing, intertextuality and intermediality, which now have come to be recognised as central to his creative practice. Starting with an overview of adaptations that Beckett was himself involved in, the account moves on to creative reworkings he merely authorised or denied, to end with a reflection on how his perception of his own authority over his own work had changed as a result. In doing so, the chapter makes the ongoing (re-)historicising of Beckett, partly through archival research, an important precondition, not only for a better understanding of his own views on adaptation but also to keep his work vibrant in a twenty-first-century context.
Beckett’s Afterlives is the first book-length study dedicated to posthumous reworkings of Samuel Beckett’s oeuvre. Contextualised against the backdrop of his own developing views on adaptation and media specificity, it nuances the long-held view that he opposed any form of genre crossing. Featuring contemporary engagements with Beckett’s work from the UK, Europe, the USA and Latin America, the volume does not approach adaptation as a form of (in)fidelity or (ir)reverence. Instead, it argues that exposing the ‘Beckett canon’ to new environments and artistic practices enables fresh perspectives on the texts and enhances their significance for contemporary artists and audiences alike. The featured essays explore a wide variety of forms (prose, theatre, performance, dance, ballet, radio, music, television, film, visual art, installation, new/digital media, webseries, etc.), in different cultural contexts, mainly from the early 1990s until the late 2010s. The concept of adaptation is broadly interpreted, including changes within the same performative context, to spatial relocations or transpositions across genres and media, even creative rewritings of Beckett’s biography. The collection offers a range of innovative ways to approach the author’s work in a constantly changing world and analyses its remarkable susceptibility to creative responses. Viewed from this perspective, Beckett’s Afterlives suggests that adaptation, remediation and appropriation constitute forms of cultural negotiation that are essential for the survival as well as the continuing urgency and vibrancy of Beckett’s work in the twenty-first century.
Waiting for freedom and equality in Nwandu and Beckett
Antoinette Nwandu’s provocative play Pass Over places two philosophically opposed source texts into conversation: the Biblical Exodus story and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. She situates this encounter in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement since the election of President Donald Trump. On one hand, Nwandu joins a long line of African American artists and activists who invoke the Exodus story as an archetype of hope, deliverance and freedom. On the other hand, she uses Godot as an emblematic counterforce to the Moses myth, where dreams of the elusive Promised Land remain perpetually deferred. Nwandu leverages Beckett to expose the dangers of moral atrophy, emphasising the lethal consequences of white privilege in perpetuating systemic oppression against African Americans. In this chapter, I similarly leverage Nwandu to expose Beckett’s own troubling complicity in his theatrical legacy of discrimination. For decades, first Beckett and later his estate representatives have repeatedly, forcefully and litigiously discouraged, denounced and banned transgressive productions featuring women and people of colour. My final section catalogues several instances of this targeted discrimination and calls for an end to these exclusionary practices.
The Happy Days Enniskillen Beckett Festival’s frequent use of non-traditional sites for performance stages a tension between text and site, in which the place of performance may alter the meaning of the text but without any proscribed (by the Beckett Estate) textual alteration. While not alone in seeing the spatial potential of Beckett’s work, Sean Doran’s programming of the festival manages a novel approach to presenting the short works within a festival context. He creates a journey to and from the performance, leading to a festival that is both generically and spatially unruly and which maps Beckett’s artworks onto the local landscapes. An interaction of some sort with the landscape becomes a vital aspect of audiences’ experiences of these productions. This body of spatially and generically unruly productions provides a new way of working within textual boundaries, creating living, breathing versions of the works. In a sense, the festival refuses the logic of boundaries, whether of institutional, geographic, generic or textual sorts. Contextualising this festival within the broader field of biographical and international arts festivals, this essay will trace how site offers a new mode of adaptation within the Beckett canon, reframing the tensions in the work between text and performance and showing how Beckett’s work can be seen, in certain contexts, as more porously open to change than is generally thought to be the case. This chapter will show how site and the festival form of production intertwine in this process of adaptation.
This chapter analyses the ‘afterlife’ of the figure of Beckett in four contemporary novels: Lucia, by Alex Pheby; The Joyce Girl, by Annabel Abbs; A Country Road, A Tree, by Jo Baker; and Jott, by Sam Thompson. Rather than adaptations of Beckett’s works, these novels interact with the historical figure of Beckett in the war years (Baker) and in his relationships with Geoffrey Thompson (Thompson) and Lucia Joyce (Pheby and Abbs). It is argued that the ‘historical’ nature of the figure and reputation of Beckett is brought to the fore and made problematic through his deployment as a fictionalised character. Baker, Thompson, Abbs and Pheby all draw on biographical material that has recently become more readily available through the publication of the letters. Yet it is also apparent that a lack of biographical material is supplemented by these authors through adopting or adapting facets of Beckett’s own works of fiction. By examining the economy of these textual traces, the chapter charts a tension between the ‘biographical’, ‘historical’ and ‘fictional’ representations of Beckett. The chapter also argues that these four fictional uses of the author allow us to consider his own practice of ‘adapting’ from real-life, especially in Dream of Fair to Middling Women (in which Lucia Joyce appears as the Syra-Cusa) and Murphy (which draws on Thompson’s experiences at the Bethlehem Hospital). This in turn raises ethical concerns about the use of ‘real’ people within fiction, for both Beckett and others.
Although he was savvy enough to warn his French publisher of ‘this adaptation business’ as requests for English language rights for En attendant Godot began to arrive in Paris in mid-1953, Beckett seems to have had only the scantest idea of how completely commercial theatre was imbricated in it. But Beckett would plunge into the ‘business’ himself by 1962, as he reconfigured Robert Pinget’s radio play La Manivelle as The Old Tune, with the acknowledgement: ‘English adaptation by Samuel Beckett’ (1962). We might say the same of his directorial debut, re-rendering Pinget’s L’Hypothèse, which he directed with actor Pierre Chabert in 1962. As a theatre director, Beckett would freely ‘adapt’ his own works for the stage and vary productions for different actors and stage configurations. This chapter traces adaptations of Waiting for Godot along racial lines with three American productions featuring all or dominantly black actors: what was generally called the ‘Negro Godot’ (1957), the touring Godot produced by the Free Southern Theater as part of the American Civil Rights Movement (1964–65), and the post-Hurricane Katrina production by the Classical Theater of Harlem in 2006, which was re-staged on the still-devastated streets of New Orleans in 2007.
Expanding the Godot universe from adaptation to transmedia storytelling
Despite being the best-known and most widely produced play by Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot can boast of few adaptations in other media, and even less research in the field of adaptation studies. Although Beckett’s transformation of theatrical vocabulary has incited playwrights and directors to redefine his work, Linda Hutcheon has argued in her Theory of Adaptation that experimental texts such as his are less easily and less frequently adapted than linear realist novels. As a media-specific artist, Beckett was not always welcoming towards adaptations of his plays and, of the few transpositions of Godot to other media, most have been ‘reverent’ and ‘faithful’. We focus on two ‘irreverent’ texts that stray from Beckett’s play and that represent different phases in intertextual and intermedial engagement with Godot: Matei Vișniec’s Le dernier Godot (play, 1987/1998) and Rudi Azank’s While Waiting for Godot (webseries, 2013). A postscript to Beckett’s play, Vișniec’s Le dernier Godot recreates and recontextualizes Godot and, by ‘toning down’ the violent vocabulary originally employed, indirectly explains why he, in Beckett’s text, needs to remain absent. Azank’s While Waiting for Godot instead focuses on the dominance of audio-visual, cinematic narration over Beckett’s dialogue in this transcoding of Godot to the media vocabularies of transmedia storytelling – and adapts the theatrical play for a web audience.