Interview with Gavin Quinn | Embers by Caomhan Keane

*This interview was originally published in on 23/07/2013

We never found your body, you know…’

Henry sits on a beach, remembering and imagining stories and incidents from his life. Tormented by his father’s suicide, his own dysfunctional family history and his failure as a writer, hallucinations and reality merge as he attempts to stoke the fire of his creativity.

First broadcast on radio in 1959, Embers takes us on a journey into the haphazard world of Henry’s imagination, a world of ever-shifting mental leaps, ruminations and ambiguities where creative storytelling and unfinished memories both real and unreal coalesce into one. Was Henry’s father washed out to sea whilst taking his evening swim, or did he commit suicide?

Director Gavin Quinn talks to Caomhan Keane about the company’s second adaptation of a Beckett play in three years.

What is Embers about?

Embers is Beckett’s second radio play. It’s the story of a character called Henry who is sitting at the edge of the sea, not able to go into it. Embers talks about his life. His past life, especially his father who may or may not have committed suicide. It’s a play, in one sense, about memory. But it is more complicated than that as it’s almost as if he is not a real person at all. He is the artist trying to discover and create some meaning from his life. The main metaphor is that of embers, as in the dying coal of life.

This is the second of Beckett’s radio plays that you have attempted to bring to life for modern audiences. What made you want to do another one so soon?

We wanted to work on a different way of doing it. All That Fall was an instillation. There was no live actors for the audience to engage with. So we wanted to make a project, which would involve structure and light. A front on theatre experience. We were attracted to this as we needed to do a second piece to satisfy certain ideas that came up while working on All That Fall in 2011.

Have you any more radio adaptations planned?

We might do two or three more productions. We are also doing a demonstration of a TV show calledQuad. It’s part of a series of pieces that we will do together in the Edinburgh International Festival. The festival were interested in exploring Beckett performance that weren’t plays. So we got together and they programmed the six productions and other events around it.

We are doing that with the Gate because the Gate are doing three other Beckett pieces- Eh Joe (directed by Atom Egoyan and featuring Michael Gambon), I’ll Go On and First Love – that are not necessarily plays.

Will these be seen in Ireland?

Were staging Embers in the Beckett centre from the 7th – 17th of August. But not the rest. There would need to be a festival or a producing partner to do something as large as that.

This piece was considered by many to be Beckett’s most difficult work. He even said it himself. Was that part of the attraction?

It’s not really his most difficult work. He was attempting to do something specifically for radio. That would activate an inner voice in the listener. Certain people suggested that the text was too dense at the time and I think he might have been a little sensitive to that type of criticism. He called it himself a mixture of hallucination and reality. But the text wasn’t difficult. It’s monologue, dialogue and monologue. The dialogue is with his supposedly dead wife. But it isn’t more difficult than any other piece of literature is. And in the production we are going to make it very clear, very arresting and adventurous so people get it.

We are seeing and feeling the thoughts in Henrys head. His wife appears. But she is a mixture of sound and other characters that are drawn upon. It’s an evocation of life in terms of its multi-dimensional aspects. The characters wander in and out. It’s a bit like sound, the way it wanders around you. Beckett was into the idea of things shifting around very suddenly in the way that sound does.

Who is involved with this show?

There is the same cast as All That Fall; there is a sculptor – who has been commissioned to make a 4 meter wooden skull, Andrew Clancy. The lighting is by Aedin Cosgrove and the sound design is by Jimmy Eadie, who also worked on All That Fall.

We have worked with Andrew Clancy a lot over the years and we commissioned him to make a sculpture for a performance. The actors are inside the skull. It’s a large object on stage that represents the centre of the piece. Collaboration between sound and light and sculpture .

Tell us about this sculpture?

What you get is a piece of sculpture that you are looking at and you are hearing words at the same time. It’s a very specific engagement. A collaboration between a large visual surface and words. One informs the other in that sense. It makes for a sharp differentiation between that and a set. It brings a physical awareness to the piece in that sense.

Interview with Gavin Quinn | Embers by Caomhan Keane.

*This interview was originally published in on 23/07/2013

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