I wanted to have another go at being able to offer it properly,” Olwen Fouéré says of Samuel Beckett’s prose Lessness.
Lessness uses random word permutation that calls for the reader to work to untangle the threads of sameness and difference to discern the underlying structure. It is a text Olwen has read before. “I really wanted to approach it completely differently this time.”
Born on the west coast of Ireland to Breton parents, Olwen has received numerous awards and nominations including Irish Times/ ESB Best Actress in 1999, 2000, 2006 and 2011, Dublin Theatre Festival Best Actor 2003 but one of her earliest accolades was the Dublin Festival Samuel Beckett Award in 1998.
Olwen explains Lessness is a text she has long felt connected to: “When I came across Beckett’s work, he was the first writer, certainly the first playwright that I felt passionate about.
“I guess I came across him in the early ‘70s and funnily enough I bought my copy of Lessness before I even became an actor and I remember at that time buying it thinking, ‘I’m going to do something with this one day’.
“At that time I was orientated with the visual arts and I thought, ‘I’m going to make something with this piece and I ended up 20 years later or something making a piece of theatre with it’.
“I would say that Beckett was certainly the first playwright that I felt whose linguistic form was one that spoke to me in a way that other playwrights’ work never did.
“One of the first plays I ever did was Endgame and then I also did Not I when I was very young.
Last year, Olwen picked up the Herald Archangel award at the Edinburgh Festival, the Irish Times Special Tribute Award for outstanding
achievement and contribution to Irish Theatre and the Stage Award for Acting Excellence for River Run, a torrent based on James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake and that Olwen has also taken to Sydney, Adelaide, New York, London, Dublin and Galway.
“It’s an image essentially,” Olwen says of the text Lessness. “That’s what you are being presented with. He wrote a number of sentences which he pulled out of a hat in a random order and then they repeat themselves once but in a completely different order so you start to recognise the sentences but none of them are sentences as we know it. It’s both an image of great beauty and it could be an image of great devastation.”
What is the new way Olwen wants to approach it this time? “I wanted to non-interpret it in any way. Now that’s a bit of an impossible task but I wanted to offer it as almost like if you were painting a picture and each word is like a brush stroke. I wanted to offer it in that sort of way where there’s no anticipation necessarily of what we’re going to see, there’s no knowledge of the words that are coming, almost like I’m receiving the words in a sort of morse code. It’s a massive challenge.”
About the upcoming festival that also includes Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh starring in Waiting for Godot, Olwen says: “I’m very happy to be part of it. I’ve had a long association with the Barbican going back to 1998 and I always think of it as my London home because I think it’s the one arts centre/ theatre which is always in touch with international work. It is the single most international venue in London I think so I’m always interested in what they do and always interested to work there. I was delighted when they asked me to be part of this. I hope to have future associations with them.”
Olwen can also seen in The Survivalist, the debut feature of Northern Irish director Stephen Fingleton which has closed the Belfast Film Festival and earned a Special Jury Mention at Tribeca Film Festival, earning positive reviews along the way.
“He’s an Incredible talent,” Olwen says of Fingleton. “When I read the script, I just thought, ‘this is an extraordinary script’. It’s probably, in terms of film scripts, the best script that I’ve ever been sent and I was so excited to be asked to do it.
“He’s an extraordinary talent. I really hope that we work together again. He has a take on the world that is very close to mine in many ways. He’s an incredibly bright man as well and the other thing about that film was it was just so great working on a film that had such a tiny cast. It was like a three hander with myself and Mia (Goth) and Martin (McCann). Both of them are wonderful actors and we all work very differently so it was just a great experience really. It was tough but it was a wonderful experience and I’m so proud to be part of it.
“It’s just a very ruthlessly honest view of the world and essentially The Survivalist is a world where we have depleted all our natural reserves of oil and fuel and the population, which is now 7 billion or higher, has been reduced to seven million and nature is thriving as opposed to many so called postapocalyptic films, nature is thriving in this, nature is now alive and singing but human beings are very reduced in numbers, are scavaging, foraging for food, killing one another. It’s a very very possible world that could happen to my lifetime.”
Olwen Fouéré reads Lessness Friday 5 June Monday 8 June, at the Barbican, simply staged in Frobisher Auditorium 2.
The International Beckett Season runs June 2- 21. For more information, go to www.barbican.org.uk.