Conor Lovett and Judy Hegarty Lovett share a great deal in life. Aside from being husband and wife, the talented duo are founders and co-artistic directors of the Gare St Lazare Ireland theater company based in Cork. They also rank as the unparalleled interpreters and champions of the Irish playwright, novelist, and poet Samuel Beckett.
From Oct. 5 to Oct. 9, Gare St Lazare will be in Boston to perform “Here All Night,” an immersive blend of spoken word and musical performance based on the writings and compositions of the Nobel Prize-winning Beckett, including “Watt,” “First Love,” “The Unnamable,” “Words and Music” and “Melanie Loves.”
Presented by ArtsEmerson, “Here All Night” will take place at the Emerson Paramount Mainstage. ArtsEmerson previously hosted Gare St Lazare’s compelling productions of “Waiting for Godot” and “Moby Dick.”
Conceived by the Lovetts, composer Paul Clark, and musician Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh, the theatrical work for soprano, actor, and chamber orchestra is directed by Judy and performed by Conor. Also featured are soprano Melanie Pappenheim and fiddler Cleek Schrey. The action is shaped around a mesmerizing art installation by Irish sculptor Brian O’Doherty.
Gare St Lazare first came to life in 1996 when the Lovetts began producing Beckett monologues. Over the past two decades, the company’s extensive body of work has included more than 17 productions of Beckett’s prose, radio dramas, and plays.
So what was it that first drew them to Beckett’? In an interview with the BIR, Conor said, “Beckett was a master craftsman, a master wordsmith. The breadth of his own reading, art appreciation, and love of music is stunning. He lived in France through the war. His artistry was informed by his humanity and he had the tools to express his vision in a way that profoundly affects his fellow men and women, us the audience.”
Supported by Culture Ireland, “Here All Night” was originally commissioned by Beckett Project Paris. A work-in-progress performance was held at Le Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris in 2010. Subsequent performances were presented at the Brighton Festival in 2013, Lincoln Center in 2015, and in London earlier this year.
The first glimmer of “Here All Night” can actually be traced farther back, to 2006, when RTE Radio commissioned Gare St Lazare to produce all seven of Samuel Beckett’s radio plays.
Said Judy: “Paul Clark worked as composer and musical director on that and wrote three gorgeous pieces to feature in the plays. Beckett includes music, either as a character or as a strong feature of some of the plays, and by not specifying which particular music, he seems to offer a collaboration with a composer. At this time we began to speak of the importance of music across Beckett’s work and the seed was planted for ‘Here All Night.’”
To configure the new creation, Gare St Lazare worked with the approval of Beckett’s estate. Conor said the estate has “always been hugely supportive of our work, and having not let them down over 20 years, they were willing to give us the space to approach this work. Edward Beckett attended an early rehearsal and gave us thumbs up and he saw the show in London this year. He is a musician himself and particularly loved the music and level of musicianship.”
In fashioning the piece, the Lovetts envisioned an evening conveying more of an experience than a story. “We certainly felt strongly that we were not going to put fragments from different pieces together to create a ‘new’ story,” said Judy. “The narrative here is secondary. The ambiance, tones, and broad strokes invite the audience toward a suggestion rather than a conclusive story.”
The collaborators began the project with a sense of practicality, gathering around a table filled with Beckett’s books, compiling references to music within the texts. “As one of us found a reference to music,” said Judy, “we would read it aloud. Caoimhin had his fiddle at the ready and Paul had a keyboard. They would jam a little and then we’d go and find more references. Little by little we began to whittle down the list.”
A basic structure emerged and Clark formed the first draft of a score. The work evolved further when Conor began performing text selections between the musical pieces. Of the show’s musicality, Judy said, “In a sense, the musical score, as with the written text, is played like a jazz piece. Every note is played as written with an improvisational playfulness.”
Addressing those who may sometimes find Beckett’s work mystifying, Judy said, “I think more and more that his work is reaching more and more people. I reckon, like all great masters, he will burn slow and forever. I would say, get with the party and don’t miss out!”
The Lovetts saw the centenary of the Easter Rising as a meaningful time to share “Here All Night” with new audiences. “The cultural commemorations were centered around Ireland’s artistic achievements in the 100 years since the Rising,” said Conor. “It’s clear to us that Samuel Beckett is a towering figure among Irish artists of that period and arguably has had the most extensive impact and influence internationally and across a host of art.
"This project was conceived by us several years earlier, he added. “However it’s interesting to note that Paul Clark is English, as are several of the musicians. Cleek is from West Virginia and we have worked with ArtsEmerson to provide us with a choir of local Boston singers. That’s the kind of internationalism that Ireland has been very good at since its independence.”
Building a solid reputation, Gare St Lazare has toured its productions to more than 80 cities in more than 25 countries. Reflecting on the company’s reach, Conor said, “It was important for a relatively small company like ourselves not to rely on just the local market. We highly recommend it to other young artists and companies — when you’re conceiving of a show, think ‘This show could go anywhere,’ and then it will. In Ireland we’re very lucky to have an agency like Culture Ireland who value the touring of Irish culture as a way of promoting exchange between Ireland and the rest of the world.”
R. J. Donovan is Editor and Publisher of onstageboston.com.
Gare St Lazare's "Here All Night,” Oct. 5–Oct. 9. Emerson Paramount Mainstage, 559 Washington Street, Boston Info: 617-824-8400 or artsemerson.org.