Interview with Marcel Bozonnet



The project of putting on Waiting for Godot took as its starting point the idea of respecting the text in its entirety, without any additions or subtractions. What relationship do you have to the text and language of Samuel Beckett? 

Samuel Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot at a time when he struggled greatly to write his novel Molloy, which would be published in 1947. He shifted to the theatre in order to, in his words, lighten his load of prose. He chose French for what he called “the absence of style.” Writing without style in order to concentrate only on pure communication. Obviously his writing is not at all stripped of style, but it is minimalist writing all the same. The mark of his genius was entering the French language all the sudden and playing with it in subtle ways. It is incredible to think that one of the most innovative works of the 20th century was written by an Irishman in our language. This Irishman was a genius of language who spoke German, Italian, and English. Beckett played with the French language, made witticisms and irony, wielded popular and scholarly language. From this fact, we can seek a radical, sharp, intense interpretation in the acting without feeling the need to add to the intonation or to the sets, without painting and without music, without decorations. Beckett tried to magnify the void and the shadow. We made sure during rehearsals that we could indeed treat the text the way you approach a score. The term of score fits in this circumstance because we know that Beckett was a musician. There are repetitions in the text that recall repetitive music. It’s a repetition of form, the way a movement comes back in music. In short, we’re going to try to be intense and strict, with this idea: aim for the least. The literary critic Pascale Casanova even calls him “Beckett the abstractor.” We know that Beckett thought about painting, which fed his writing. He wrote without any relationship to the characters, but with a relationship to bodies and minds; his thinking is both literary and that of a lover of painting.

These underground exchanges that fed his work are fascinating, as is this idea of working around the form of movement: a movement as in music, which also evokes a bodily dimension. 

From a bodily point of view, it’s practically an absence of movement: traditional dramatic plot doesn’t exist. Whereas in the theatre, before him, an incredible number of things were done: in tragedies, people knelt down, stabbed each other in the wings, they came on stage, they left, and in naturalist drama they sat down to eat, they went to bed...Here, on the other hand, there is a radical operation! The two characters are there, they don’t leave the stage. Two other characters come in and just walk across the stage, come back, sit down, and leave again, while Vladimir and Estragon don’t do anything other than sit there where they are. There is an analysis of immobility, which was truly an innovation.

I imagine that these hidden inspirations open up certain perspectives for staging...

Yes. We know for example that Beckett borrowed this world of vagabonds from Irish literature, from Synge in particular. As for the pair Pozzo and Lucky, we know that the inspiration is Laurel and Hardy, and the duo Footit and Chocolat. Footit, who is certainly an inspiration for the character of Pozzo, was a great English clown, with an extremely piercing, feminine voice, whom Cocteau described as “a great duchess.” Female audiences loved Footit. Plus, we know that Beckett had seen Karl Valentin, the great German comedian, who would also inspire Brecht.

What biographical elements do we know today that shed light on the writing of the play?

You hear a certain number of things in Beckett, you feel truth while performing it, that something comes from a lived experience. And the extraordinary biography by James Knowlson, published by Babel, contains significant information. Thus, we know that Beckett spent 1936 travelling in Germany, going from town to town to absorb Expressionist, Fauve, and contemporary painting. But 1936 was also the year of the Olympic Games organized by the Nazis, and when the games were over, the galleries that showed these paintings closed one after another... So Beckett was present for the rise of Nazism, he heard speeches, met Jewish painters who were already no longer able to show in galleries or museums and showed their work at home. When he returned to Paris, he knew perfectly well what Nazism was. To my mind this is a very important fact. In Waiting for Godot, we hear the faint echo of this period. Because next came the exodus, when he found himself on the road, and then his participation in the Gloria Resistance network, which sent information to the British information agencies. This network was betrayed, and Beckett fled at the last minute and hid in Roussillon. He found himself in a tough farming environment, he had very little money, the area was very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter, and he ate very little. We know that this experience marked his work. Moreover, among his friends in the Resistance, there were also people who were arrested and sent to the camps, and he read the memoirs they wrote when they returned. It is hard not to make the connection between the memoirs of his friends and expressions like “without me you wouldn’t be anything more than a little pile of bones right now,” as Vladimir says to Estragon. Beckett erased anything that could be a visible autobiographical or historical reference – he let shadows pass by.

The text resonates in a contemporary and political way because the characters of Vladimir and Estragon will be played by Fargass Assandé and Michel Bohiri. 

Yes, that is illustrated by Jean Lambert-wild’s idea of giving these roles to two actors from Côte d’Ivoire. Something of the North-South confrontation and the big migratory movement will be present. And moreover it’s important that the great classics of French literature – and Waiting for Godot is one of these classics – also be performed by black actors. Especially since this theatre is universal and resonates in the whole world. Waiting for Godot continues to reflect the world. There is this question that haunts the text: what are we doing? And this answer, which I find very anguished: we’re waiting for Godot... Here, today, in Europe, it’s the issue of being stunned, from the fact of being there and doing nothing, while we see the war in Syria, the tens of thousands of dead, the disappeared, the refugees. What are we doing? We’re not doing anything. We’re waiting for Godot.

Your work will consist of being both a director and being on stage. Do you already have something in mind for the way in which you will approach the role of Pozzo? 

I don’t have anything in mind! It would be too bad to have something in mind before having played the whole score. What we’ve done are staged readings, and we’ve already been able to assess the problems that a certain number of props will present for us. The most interesting thing, for me, is accomplishing sentence by sentence what will end up creating the character.

This is the first time that you’ve worked with Jean Lambert-wild.

Yes. Jean Lambert-wild is a friend who welcomed me warmly into his theatre, one day when I was passing through with out show Rentrons dans la rue [Let’s Go Into the Streets]. He was generous enough to say to me, “make yourself at home.” It was friendly and warm – the attitude of a friend. I am really happy to share this experience of studying Beckett with him and Lorenzo Malaguerra. Jean is a total artist, a performer, a visual artist, and a writer, and I think his attitude of devoting himself to interpreting one of the greatest forms of dramatic writing is exactly right. Jean Lambert- wild told me recently that he had found an inspiration for Lucky’s voice in the cartoon Le Roi et l’Oiseau [The King and the Bird] by Pierre Grimault. He played a bit of the bird’s voice for me. It was a speech with a long list, and you could hear a “modern” actor. When looking up the name of the actor whose voice we heard, I realized that it was Jean Martin, who played the role of Lucky in Roger Blin’s production of the play in 1953. Jean Lambert-wild hadn’t realized it either! This means that there is an exact science, and that you can discover layers and find hidden inspirations. I was lucky enough to be Roger Blin’s assistant, and he was the first to direct and perform in Waiting for Godot. I still hear his stirring, even strident, tones. His sense of humour and his mischievous grace are not far from me.

Interview conducted by Eugénie Pastor 


 le 31 mai 2013