Billie Whitelaw, An Evening with Samuel Beckett

Review in Issue 11-3 | Autumn 1999

Nick Cave, artistic director of this year’s Meltdown, writes, as a statement of intent that this year’s festival should blow our minds.

Not least amongst the mindblowing events was the rare stage appearance by Billie Whitelaw. It is not often that Whitelaw graces the stage anymore. preferring what she regards as the less gruelling discipline of film. But it is her stage work, particularly her work with Beckett, for which she is most treasured.

Beckett was always something of an enigma. Who better then to illuminate him than his favourite actress and most celebrated interpreter? The audience hope that, through Whitelaw, they will come closer to him, that somehow her special bond with Beckett will reveal him to us. Theatre as séance. It is, of course, an impossible demand.

Whitelaw has an amiable enough stage presence. Like an eccentric aunt, she dithers about the stage showing us props from Happy Days, plying us with anecdotes and introducing a screening of Not with tales of the physical discomfort its realisation cost her. Whilst Whitelaw’s charm is irresistible, Beckett nevertheless remains an enigma.

At the end of the evening, Whitelaw takes questions from the audience. ‘What was he like as a man?’, somebody asks plaintively. That this question should need to be asked at the end of the evening, demonstrates the frustration of Whitelaw’s illustrated lecture. What she can tell us is, without doubt, interesting, but it offers little insight into the man or the artist.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Festival
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Jun 1999

This article in the magazine

Issue 11-3
p. 23