The Samuel Beckett Estate: An Interview with Edward Beckett

Mel Gussow talks to Samuel Beckett’s nephew about the writer’s life and productions of his work
Edward Beckett

Mel Gussow: At what point did [Samuel Beckett] tell you he was going to make you an executor?

Edward Beckett [nephew]: In the last eight months before he died, he asked me if I would help Lindon [his publisher] in looking after things because he realised it was just too much and also that Lindon wasn’t an English speaker and would need a bit of help. I said, of course I would do it. I think he said it would be a lot of work. I couldn’t imagine what work there would be. It was something I took on readily. Obviously at the beginning, just because of the nature of things there were a lot of things happening. I had to find my feet, find the way things had to be administered and had to be run, and to meet the people. Then there was a quiet period, and then a second phase came along, when people start thinking what can they do. People probably think I spend every day, but I don’t. I can keep on with music quite well but I do devote quite a lot of time to correspondence and seeing people.

MG: Do you approve all productions?

EB: No, basically, a lot of the standard productions are approved by the agents. It’s understood that stock productions, small theatres around the country, schools, institutions can go by on the nod. There’s nothing controversial about those. Obviously when there’s something bigger than that, a major tour or a new West End production, then we get involved.

MG: Do you think of yourself as a watchman over the work?

EB: Lindon and I are trying to do what Sam did in his lifetime. Curtis Brown sent over all the requests to him for vetting and he’d just scribble on them, OK, or no, not this one. I just feel I’m to continue that work for him. It’s only when you get controversial productions then that starts to become very difficult. […] It’s only with a larger production, or it’s announced that it’s going to be done in a certain way, that the estate gets involved in trying to stop it.

MG: Like Deborah Warner’s Footfalls.

EB: That only came about because I went to see the preview night. She had applied for the rights and the rights had been given but no mention had been made of the fact that it was going to be staged in mid-air, and that lines were going to be slightly doctored. I had a seat in the back and I couldn’t understand why the front row seats were blocked out, until suddenly was a foot away, and clinging on to the front of the balcony for dear life. I noticed that some of the lines had been transferred from one actress to the other. So at that point I had to get back to Curtis Brown to say, what’s going on? And I had to make the decision of course of whether it let it go or whether to stop it. Obviously I referred back to Lindon, and we decided that was the end [of the production]. It’s always a very difficult decision. If you stopped it, the actors would be out on the streets again, and perhaps money would be lost on productions. The compromise was to disown the production publicly, take no royalties from it and make sure it didn’t go any further. So we refused permission for it to go to France.

We’re not entirely restrictive. We’re not, as Deborah Warner said, conservers of museum pieces. Not at all. All sorts of productions and interpretations are possible but still staying within the framework of the piece. […]

My life could be spent going around to every symposium and production, of course. It could be open-ended. I could go into the production side myself and encourage people, but I don’t think that’s called for. I do what I can to act as a catalyst and as a guardian, and try to equate those two things in as reasonable a way as possible. My greatest help is that Lindon is there. He knew Sam and knew his thoughts. Without him, my life would be an awful lot more difficult.

This is an excerpt from Mel Gussow’s collection, Conversations with and About Beckett.


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