, Samuel Beckett also wrote many books, short stories and p' />

In addition to penning iconic plays such as Waiting for Godot and Krapp's Last Tape, Samuel Beckett also wrote many books, short stories and poems over the course of his near 50-year career.

Since forming in Paris two decades ago, the Gare St Lazare Players have dedicated themselves to bringing some of those lesser-known works to the stage.

Made up of actor Conor Lovett and director Judy Hegarty Lovett, the husband-and-wife team have gone from strength to strength since taking their one-man show of the Irish author's 1951 novel, Malloy, to the 1996 Edinburgh Festival.

The pair are heading to New Zealand next week to perform dramatisations of Beckett's interlinked 1946 novellas, The End and First Love, at the Auckland Arts Festival.

"They were both written around the same time," says Conor, who, with Judy, divides his time between Paris and Cork.

"They seem to be talking about different periods in the life of the same person, who doesn't have a name in either case. But there are lots of indications.

"In The End, he mentions that 'my bench was still there' and he goes out into the city and finds it. It's also a huge feature in First Love as most of the first half takes place on a bench by a canal. There are other clues like that but, being Beckett, he never makes that entirely clear. He just allows you to make that guess."

Both plays feature the same homeless character. In First Love he reminisces about his sordid formative encounter with a prostitute who stumbles upon him sleeping rough, while The End opens with him being thrown out of an institution.

"They're like companion pieces," says Judy. "We know he's out on the road alone, trying to survive, and it's his feelings, reflections and experiences about that which we encounter."

As it centres around two down-on-their luck itinerants, parallels can also be drawn with Waiting for Godot. "There are crossovers in all of Beckett's work," says Judy. "It's definitely all like one long song, and Beckett cleverly used characters who are universal."

Beckett first struck a chord with Conor when he was 18 years old. "I started reading his novels first and I've loved them since then," he says.

"They were like a wonderful mix of comedy with a great emotional undercurrent. Somehow I identified with that, although it's hard to know why exactly. That's something I've always found difficult to answer and I'm reluctant to say that it's down to any one simple thing. You can go into his work at so many different angles and on so many different levels."

From Harold Pinter's enigmatic pauses to David Mamet's snappy dialogue, Beckett has had a profound impact upon 20th-century literature. "It's not just in writing," says Conor. "A lot of rock and classical musicians, visual artists, film directors and actors have also been influenced by him."

Conor believes that Beckett was ahead of his time. "He's been dead for more than 20 years now and I still don't think people have caught up with him yet," he says.

"Like any of the great artists he was a master of his medium. There's a Beckett scholar called Gerry Dukes, who said, 'a sentence in Beckett is a language event', and I concur entirely with that. He has a beautiful way with words.

"He used to challenge himself by writing in both English and in French to see if the different languages could really do their job properly. Behind the mastery and the craftsmanship was a great artist with a lot to say about how humankind expresses itself."

Judy's minimal sets place the emphasis firmly on the quality of the text. "Some of the reasons for that are financial but it's mostly aesthetic," she says. "We believe that less is necessary and, like Beckett, our approach is about paring back and not adding anything.

"We tend to focus very much on the form of the writing and the delivery. We believe that the audience comes with plenty of visual ability and they can project themselves easily on to the scenes."

According to Judy, the Auckland Arts Festival is in for a unique experience. "Conor is one of Ireland's greatest interpreters of Beckett's work," she says.

"He genuinely has an affinity with the work and an ability with the language that's like no other. I almost see him as being a medium for channelling Beckett's plays."

Auckland Arts Festival
What: Two Samuel Beckett Prose Masterpieces

Where and when:
First Love: Herald Theatre, March 15 and 17, 7pm; March 16 and 19, 2pm

The End: March 16, 18, 19 at 7pm; March 17 at 2pm