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“Irish theatre is held in very high regard”

INTERVIEW: What does it take to interpret Samuel Beckett and do it well? Actor Conor Lovett and director Judy Hegarty Lovett team up to deliver a production of First Love at Berlin theatre festival The Full Irish at ETB from May 9-18.

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Photo by Ros Kavanagh

The English Theatre Berlin’s festival assembles a variety of performers from the Emerald Isle, including actor Conor Lovett of the internationally acclaimed Gare St. Lazare Players.

Known for their striking, mostly solo productions of the works of Samuel Beckett, the husband-wife duo of Lovett and director Judy Hegarty Lovett, together with associate producer Maura O’ Keeffe, have garnered praise as the greatest living interpreters of the enigmatic 20th-century Irish writer. Their production of Beckett’s early short story First Love comes to Berlin as part of The Full Irish, with the support of Culture Ireland.

How did you go about taking these works from the page to the stage?

Beckett writes a lot of his works in the first person, so they lend themselves to being stood up and spoken to an audience. They speak directly to the reader on the page and we speak directly to the audience on the stage.

It’s a monumental task to keep all of that text memorised. Do you ever have moments where you forget?

A few years ago, I did three performances a day for three days of the same piece, and there were moments in show two on day two when I didn’t know where I was! I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve said this, I’m going around in a loop here.”

You live in France, but you’re registered and present yourselves as an Irish company. What is your experience with the reputation of Irish theatre abroad?

Irish theatre is held in very high regard. It goes back to the times pre-television when theatre companies did actually tour internationally with regularity. It’s also to do with the playwrights, they took a language that wasn’t theirs – it became our mother tongue but at the same time there was always a resistance – which led to a different, more colourful way of using English.

Beckett himself lived in France and wrote quite a few works in French. Does that affect your understanding of him as an Irish writer?

Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and a lot of other Irish writers moved away from and lived outside of Ireland. A lot of Irish people did that. [Laughs] Certainly he came to France and he wrote in French and lived en francais in his personal life, but he’s an Irish writer, there’s no way around it.

How do you and your wife balance being in both a personal and professional relationship?

We have an advantage, if you like, because my parents worked together in their own business and so did Judy’s parents. People do it all the time and it used to be more common. You could flip it and say, “Well, how do you keep your marriage together if you don’t see each other 40 hours a week?”

First Love, May 12-13, 20:00 | English Theatre Berlin, Fidicinstraße. 40, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Platz der Luftbrücke