Henrietta Bredin talks to Simon McBurney about his latest challenge: doing Beckett for the first time
I am standing in Simon McBurney’s kitchen, discussing pigs (he’s not only kept them but also slaughtered them, butchered them and made over 20 different sorts of salami), memory and language (both capacious and exact in his case), watching him brew coffee (freshly ground, delectably strong), grill toast and spread marmalade (home-made, dark and delicious) and realising that his insatiably curious intellect, his grace and economy of movement are as compelling in a domestic setting as they are on stage.
With Complicité, the company he founded in the early 1980s, he has devised, directed and performed in works that have exploded people’s preconceived ideas of what theatre should be, expanding imagination and perception with performances that have been visually startling, mentally stimulating and, frequently, wildly, deliriously funny.
Now he is submitting himself to the minutely detailed instructions provided by Samuel Beckett in Endgame. ‘Text is where I come from,’ he says. ‘I grew up in a house without a television and, as a result, I was always reading. People talk about the visual nature of the pieces that I make and I think that comes from the imaginative engagement you have if you do a lot of reading. Also, my mother used to write plays for us children to perform, and, living in Cambridge, a university town, there were frequent student productions, of Shakespeare in particular, that required children. My school did a lot of Shakespeare, too, so before I even got to university I think I had performed in 20 or 25 Shakespeare plays. I was steeped in the language and never found it difficult. I can’t actually remember a year of my life when I wasn’t performing a piece of theatre.