Jack Emery does Samuel Beckett’s ‘Malone Dies’

Jack Emery’s take on the opening lines of Malone Dies is a strange beast. One is struck initially by his somewhat cartoonish intonation. He furthermore deviates from the text a couple of times. These are, however, only ever merely minor infractions, the insertion of a mere where it is unnecessary once or twice – as I say, minor infractions, minor, think no more of them.

For the most part then, Emery is felicitous to words and punctuation, not so much delivery. Emery will occasionally become excited and raise the pitch of his voice to emphasise that which he may have possibly believed merited apotheosis, particularly when citing the various days of celebration that he believes his death may occur before.  What emerges from the text on reading it is the absurdity of keeping track of his progress relative to days in religious and civic life known for their feasting and celebration, for Malone they have morbid tinge. Emery will develop his excited pitch while listing them off, as if invigorated by the thought of publicly brandished bunting, something that I can’t imagine Malone being. When Emery recites the line about Malone’s ‘old debtor,’ death, Emery speaks as if death was an old friend who just walked into the room for a long ‘aul confab.

Another impression one gets is that Malone sounds like the beneficiary of elocution classes. Every syllable is enunciated precisely, the words ‘neutral’ and ‘inert’ are sounded in a sing-song tone. When he declares that his stories are to be as lifeless as the teller is, it seems somewhat nonsensical; Malone as he appears here seems explosively spontaneous and hopped up on his own vim.

It is possible that it is the residua of a national pride within me that reacts against Emery’s accent and is determined to view Malone as being Irish. This is possibly counter-intuitive, as, despite his name, the novel was written originally in French. This is possibly why the fourteenth of July is named with the reverence that it is. From Malone’s description of the view from his window I had assumed that he lived in London, perhaps the bed-sit in Paultons Square that Beckett himself lived in. However, Beckett neglects to mention the charming Georgian square garden that sits between him and the woman he sees going about her chores every evening. Either Malone has a predilection for taking a negative view of his situation (probable), or Beckett, glimpsing the future of Blarney-inflected Joyce walking tours of Dublin and, not wishing to be burdened with a similar legacy, purged his writings of all geographic identifiers (unlikely). This is Beckett’s decision to not state the location directly. I suppose that it is equally possible that he lives in a small bed-sit in Paris with a view into a woman’s flat. Then again, Malone says he doesn’t have to lift his head of the pillow to see her, so maybe the square is there. Then again again, Malone probably wouldn’t be able to see the whole way across the square, assuming that he’s visually impaired. In any case, one could say that Emery’s accent contributes this over determined palimpsest of conflicting national identities.

My issues with the Beckett monologues, as spoken by Emery and Pinter have been their tendency to either dabble in grandiloquence and to occasionally build momentum, attempting to deepen a sense of narrative or imminent arrival at some ‘point.’ The pursuit of an ictus or the speaking of one sentence in such a way that makes it more important than any other, the performer channels interiority, that I find sits uncomfortably with the source material. Perhaps am being too hard on both Emery and Pinter, their performances may reflect an attempt to introduce contrast and the demands of live performance simply would not work for this cool recitation on the subject of one’s demise.

En bref: Less is more.


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