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Catastrophe/ Rough for Theatre II/ Breath

A director and his assistant arrange a protagonist, who stands on a black block as he submits to their direction. Catastrophe is the only piece in the Beckett canon that expresses a political viewpoint. The director has some of the standard accruements of an authoritarian figure: a fur coat and matching toque,
a fat cigar, and an armchair from which only he can preside.
A, the assistant, behaves with the proper humility and alacrity but carefully wipes the armchair before she can relax in it. Her frequent recourse to pad and pencil offers a sharp critique of excessive bureaucracy. Luke, the offstage lighting man, remains invisible throughout the piece, as befits a mere worker. P, the protagonist, is simply a puppet who is subject to the director’s will and whim. It is ultimately P’s ineradicable subjectivity that precipitates the catastrophe. Director David Mamet’s film of the play stars John Gielgud (in his last film role), Rebecca Pidgeon and Harold Pinter. (7 mins.)

Rough for Theatre II features three characters. Two men (A and B) try to assess the life of C, who is standing motionless but seemingly poised to jump out of a window. Armed with a mass of documentation, A and B examine C’s life as though he were not present. They finally decide to let C jump, only to discover he is already dead. In this piece, Beckett indicts written language as inadequate to the task of describing or valuing human experience in meaningful terms.
As director Katie Mitchell says, Beckett has that rare ability to capture our fleeting perceptions of the ridiculous and the despairing in a very taut form. We need a mirror to reflect our darker selves back to us, and he is one of the few people who can do that. Film is an extraordinary medium which potentially allows you an increased palette with which to communicate this.
(With: Jim Norton, Timothy Spall, Hugh B. O’Brien. 30 mins.)

Breath was written in response to Kenneth Tynan’s request for a sketch to be included in Oh, Calcutta! This is the most compressed of Beckett’s dramatic works, lasting less than a minute. On a set full of rubbish, a person cries out and breathes in again. Life is reduced to a brief interlude of dim light between two cries and the onset of darkness. (Director: Damien Hirst. Voice: Keith Allen. 45 secs.)

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