This ‘mime for one player’ was composed in French as ‘Acte sans paroles’ in 1956. The playwright’s cousin, John Beckett, scored its musical accompaniment. The work was originally scheduled to be performed on the same programme as ‘Fin de partie’ (‘Endgame’), which plan was never realised. It was first performed at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1957.
The text was first published, together with ‘Fin de partie’, by Les Editions de minuit in Paris (1957) and in English, with ‘Endgame’, by the Grove Press, New York (1958).
Karel Reisz, director of the Beckett on Film screen production, was born in Czechoslovakia in 1926 and educated in Britain. He was the first programme director of the National Film Theatre in the early 1950s. Among the many films Reisz has directed are: ’Night Must Fall’ (1963) with Albert Finney; ‘Isadora’ (1967) with Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards and James Fox; ’The Gambler’ (1973-4) with James Caan; ’The French Lieutenant's Woman’ (1980) with Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons; ’Sweet Dreams’ (1985-6) with Jessica Lang and Ed Harris; and ’Everybody Wins’ (1990) with Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. He has also directed many stage productions across the US, Great Britain and Ireland.
Reisz comments: ‘”Act Without Words I” is a mime, with no dialogue at all. The artifice of the thing being set in the theatre is part of the pleasure of the piece. Now I have to find a way of making the artifice of the cinema part of the pleasure of the piece. It's a nice problem. I think it's a jeu d'esprit in a rather ambiguous, half-despairing way.’
The Player, Sean Foley (a trained clown) notes: 'We did a lot of rehearsal in ‘Act Without Words I’ on just finding out, and making it clear to whoever was watching, what is going on in my character’s brain. All this stuff is thrown at him and he responds with puzzlement, desperation and fear. Imagine being catapulted into the middle of the desert: you'd be pretty upset … I hope people feel first and foremost entertained. And anything after that would be good.'