Rethinking difference and disability with Samuel Beckett

“In July 2012, at the performance workshop of the second Samuel Beckett Summer School, I sat in the Players Theatre and watched Rosemary Pountney (1937-2016) try to walk in Footfalls in precisely the way that Samuel Beckett had showed her. Though the costume she wore was the original dress and hardly the worse for wear, with time her body had moved on to a different style of movement, with a different level of control, and to take each required step in the way her body once knew, for the full duration of the piece, was no longer within her capacity.

Watching her move, and then watching as the lights moved across the stage where her footfalls would have once been, what I thought about acting and accessibility changed forever. Watching this performing body with the genuine, inimitable traces of age, I felt the ghostly resonances of the text in a completely new way. That day I traded my old answers for new questions: how could anyone say to Rosemary that she should no longer communicate her embodied knowledge, merely because it might have migrated from an earlier authorial ideal? And when was it ever ideal in the first place? What would a “perfect” performance even mean in the context of Beckett, that poet of failure? Instead of demanding sameness in our theatre, what can we learn from difference?” — Nicholas Johnson

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