A interpretation on film of the stage play by Samuel Beckett.
Three urns stand on the stage. From each, a head protrudes -- a man and two women.
The film tells the story of a love triangle. Each head held fast in its urn is provoked into speech by an inquisitorial camera.
Play - Written in English December 1962.
Film director: Anthony Minghella
Cast: Alan Rickman, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Juliet Stepherson
Play is a one-act play by Samuel Beckett. It was written between 1962 and 1963 and first produced in German as Spiel on 14 June 1963 at the Ulmer Theatre in Ulm-Donau, Germany, directed by Deryk Mendel, with Nancy Illig (W1), Sigfrid Pfeiffer (W2) and Gerhard Winter (M). The first performance in English was on 7 April 1964 at the Old Vic in London.
The curtain rises on three identical grey funeral “urns”, about three feet tall by preference,[arranged in a row facing the audience. They contain three stock characters. In the middle urn is a man (M). To his right is his wife (W1) or long-time partner. The third urn holds his mistress (W2). Their “[f]aces [are] so lost to age and aspect as to seem almost part of the urns.” Beckett has used similar imagery before, Mahood’s jar in The Unnameable, for example, or the dustbins occupied by Nell and Nagg in Endgame.
At the beginning and end of the play, a spotlight picks out all three faces, and all three characters recite their own lines, in what Beckett terms a "chorus"; the effect is unintelligible. The main part of this play is made up of short, occasionally fragmented sentences spoken in a “[r]apid tempo throughout” “which in his 1978 rehearsals [he] likened to a lawn mower – a burst of energy followed by a pause, a renewed burst followed by another pause.” “He wrote each part separately, then interspersed them, working over the proper breaks in the speeches for a long time before he was satisfied.”
One character speaks at a time and only when a strong spotlight shines in his or her face. The style is reminiscent of Mouth’s logorrhoea in Not I, the obvious difference being that these characters constantly use first person pronouns. Clichés and puns abound. While one is talking the other two are silent and in darkness. They neither acknowledge the existence of the others around them (M: “To think we were never together”) nor appear aware of anything outside their own being and past (W2: “At the same time I prefer this to . . . the other thing. Definitely. There are endurable moments”). Beckett writes that this spotlight "provokes" the character's speech, and insists that whenever possible, a single, swivelling light should be used, rather than separate lights switching on and off. In this manner the spotlight is “expressive of a unique inquisitor”. Billie Whitelaw referred to it as “an instrument of torture.” The spotlight is in effect the play’s fourth character.
In an almost fugal style the three obsess over the affair. Each presents his or her own version of the truth told in the past tense and each from his or her respective points of view. It is one of Beckett’s most ‘musical’ pieces with “a chorus for three voices, orchestration, stage directions concerning tempo, volume and tone, a da capo[ repeat of the entire action” and a short coda.
Towards the end of the script, there is the concise instruction: "Repeat play." Beckett elaborates on this in the notes, by saying that the repeat might be varied. “[I]n the London production, variations were introduced: a weakening of light and voices in the first repeat, and more so in the second; an abridged second opening; increasing breathlessness; changes in the order of the opening words.”The purpose of this is to suggest a gradual winding down of the action for he writes of “the impression of falling off which this would give, with the suggestion of a conceivable dark and silence in the end, or of an indefinite approximating towards it.” At the end of this second repeat, the play appears as if it is about to start again for a third time (as in Act Without Words II), but does not get more than a few seconds into it before it suddenly stops.