The Beckett Machine: Something Mechanical Encrusted Upon the Living

  • Spencer Roberts (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Beckett Machine is an electronic artwork that endlessly performs the text of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The stage is comprised of a small Liquid Crystal Display and a series of Light Emitting Diodes. The text of the play passes mechanically across the surface of the screen. Its exposition is interrupted by standardised pauses for punctuation and for the designated periods of silence that are indicated in the text.

Five Light Emitting Diodes hang beneath the display. They each flash periodically, giving voice to an associated character. Despite this representational specificity, the style of each character’s exposition is generic - they flash rhythmically and repeatedly with the movement of the text. An additional LED, in closer proximity to the screen, signifies, with the same rhythmic insistence, the occurrence of stage directions, whilst a further two serve to indicate which of the acts is currently being performed.

The resulting enactment (or series of looped re-enactments) is intended to be both engaging and meta-theatrical. Whilst in one sense there is an endless repetition of the text, in another there is an endless exposition of its structure. Beckett’s directions are expressed alongside the words and actions of his creations, and a mechanical strobing light serves as a common system of representation. In this fashion the Beckett Machine connects with three of the playwright’s own preoccupations: reflexivity, the shape of the play and the corresponding rhythm of its exposition.

In this paper I would like to explore shape, rhythm and reflexivity with respect to the Beckett Machine, and to frame this specifically in relation to notions of repetition, embodiment, transcendence and routine. There are a number of ways in which the Beckett Machine could be said to either embody or to be embodied by the text of the play. That is to say, there are resonances between its constitutive materials, its formal structure and the content of the play itself. With this in mind, and in attempt to both elucidate and justify this form of staging, I will discuss the peculiarly logico-mechanical orchestration of the text.

The quotation in the title of this paper comes from Henri Bergson’s writing on laughter.
Period4 Dec 2007
Event titleRepeat:Repeat
Event typeConference
LocationChester, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational