Thoughts on the Beckett Symposium

Photo: Aksel Pépin

My head is full of space. I find myself staring at clouds, trees, hills, thinking nothing. I’ve never seen clouds or trees before.

Over three days we lived and worked together on Skuterud Farm, on Nesodden, a peninsula across the bay from Oslo. A barn, chicken coop, grazing sheep, old machinery in the long grass, horses, fields, forest.

We played with Beckett’s short ‘Ohio Impromptu’ text.

A Reader reads and a Listener intermittently knocks. The knock – an interruption – variously interpreted. A relaying of a narrative from one person to another.

For me the weekend was defined by the presence of our Listener; nature. Being woken by the cockerel at 5.30am. The needling mosquitoes. In a strong wind, acorns raining on the roof of the outdoor stage. Collaborating with a 700 year old tree. Eating eggs laid that morning on Claudia’s farm, scrambled on our fire pit.

The actual rain, falling heavy on our public performance. The ink running on Alicja’s hand-written text, grey clouds sweeping in heavy, then dispersing, sunlight warming my sodden clothes. Arms outstretched to the sea, soaked to the bone, shivering.

One night we ran through the forest, watched horses and stars, went to bed.

2020 has also had its Listener and interrupter in the form of Covid-19. I can’t separate the overwhelming catharsis of the Symposium from the harrowing experience of the English government’s indolent, inept, racist response to the pandemic.

To collaborate with strangers, to work closely and vulnerably, can be revealing. With friends you have established reference points, a communicative short hand, a common sense of humour… With strangers (from a range of countries) you are a blanker slate. The process of re-establishing a ‘self’ can be a freedom, a lesson.

I was amazed by the almost immediate trust and openness within the group. A willingness to play, to share, work together on impulse. A little bit utopian. Credit to our hosts for their safe, steady hands. To the variety and warmth of the participants. To the temperament of Norway. And credit to the Coronavirus pandemic, the antithesis of touch.

To make theatre or performance in nature is to collaborate with time, light, space, focus, and the elements, in ways I have rarely considered. In contrast, the site of a theatre seems entirely centred on control. Nature is constantly emergent and infinitely nested. To collaborate with nature is humbling.

I keep using the word ‘Nature’ and of course I am of nature, not separate to it, as is a theatrical building. More accurate to say the outdoors? The elements?

(I want to live in Norway. England is Hell. In Norway we stood together and looked at something greater than us. In England we stand apart and point at each other.)

A moonlit walk talking about Korean shamanism.

Whiskey by the fire.

Swimming at dusk, moonlight.

A year in an hour.

Poetry.

Spending time with horses in the night.

The echo around the hills of the announcer at the horse-riding competition.

Bag of wine, rumours of more.

Getting things wrong on purpose; liberating.

Knocking ‘til my knuckles bled.

Lovely dogs that must not be further thrilled.

English people are actually amusing.

Dreams of spinning, of danger.

Soaked, you turn.

Chatty chat, fireside.

‘Theatre’s don’t have tides.’

‘The buzzing, the buzzing’, stories about everything going wrong.

Nice fountain pen.

Feet cut up from swimming.

Shaking, trembling, breathing.

The chickens, roaming.

A week later and I am camping by a Norwegian lake with my partner. The sun is setting on the rippling water, light caught in the smoke from our campfire. We are cooking ‘pølse’, or sausages, on sticks I’ve whittled. We cook sausages and keep the fire going, that’s all. The last week I’ve been a kind of vacant happy. We drink our one allotted three-thousand-pound beer.

The next day I watch a bug walk up a reed in the lake. Once it gets to the top it turns around and walks to the bottom. Meeting the water, it turns around, and walks upward along the reed, to the top. I watch this for around ten or so minutes. I get a stick and, recklessly, I relocate it.

Alan Fielden, August 2020

Alan’s web-site: http://www.alanfielden.co.uk/