Siân Phillips to star in Beckett double-bill

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In 1981, English actor Billie Whitelaw appeared in the premiere of Samuel Beckett’s Rockaby at the State University of New York at Buffalo. A short solo play, the audience is presented with a woman in a rocking chair which, apparently of its own accord, rocks backwards and forwards while we hear her voice describe events from her life and that of her mother. Split into four sections with the woman only intermittently joining in with odd phrases from the voiceover, it ultimately becomes an inevitable march toward death, out of the control of either the woman or the audience.

Siân Phillips to star in Beckett double-bill
James Haddrell, artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre

Then, in 1985, the same performer starred in the premiere of Beckett’s Footfalls at the Royal Court in London. Once again split into four sections, this time the solo protagonist is seen pacing up and down (nine steps in nine seconds on repeat – just one example of the precision that Beckett demanded of performers of his work). She conducts a conversation with her elderly unseen mother (whether she exists or not is up for debate), both address the audience about each other, and finally we are left, once again, with a sense of finality, even a sense of doubt about existence.

This November, in a thrilling piece of programming, these two plays are set to be brought together at Jermyn Street Theatre in London before transferring to Theatre Royal Bath. For these new productions, Dame Siân Phillips will appear alongisde Charlotte Emerson.

Siân Phillips won a BAFTA for her role in the BBC’s 1976 adaptation of I, Claudius. She has performed the titular roles in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. She was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to drama.

Charlotte Emerson is best known for her roles in See No Evil: The Moors Murders (ITV), Casualty 1909 (BBC) and Underworld (Hat Trick). She was most recently seen on stage in Alone in Berlin at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate.

Tickets for the London performances, which are likely to sell-out, are available at https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/


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