(Belinda McKeon’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/17.)
“I electrocuted myself last night,” Lisa Dwan says. She’s laughing, so I laugh too, thinking it’s a metaphor for one of Dwan’s famously self-punishing techniques – this is an actor, after all, who tied her own head to a banister while giving one of her acclaimed one-woman Beckett plays an early run-through at home. She has bled on stages around the world, such were the physical demands of her blindfolded, harnessed version of Beckett’s Not I, which she retired earlier this year. Now she’s preparing for the Old Vic’s world premiere of her newest Beckett work, No’s Knife, adapted by Dwan from his prose pieces Texts for Nothing, and the rehearsal process, she says, has been gruelling. But the electrocution was accidental, and decidedly non-metaphorical; a power surge in her London flat – thanks to a building site across the street – and a trip to the hospital. “When I complained to the builders,” she says, “they thought I was a blonde actress and told me to change the bulbs.”
Dwan is a blonde actress, actually. She’s been a blonde actress since her childhood in the Irish midlands, “this tiny dot of a little kid with the huge eyes and the hair, heading down the Roscommon road wearing my father’s tie. Just trying to find an identity. Just various different things we try on.” She tried ballet on as a child, too; at 12, she danced with Rudolf Nureyev when he performed in Dublin. She left her Irish convent school for a Yorkshire ballet school two years later, an experience she describes as traumatic in plenty of ways but formative in others.