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Samuel Beckett

Worstward Ho 

Victorian Theatre Company
26 May 2023
It is a curious fact that perhaps the most famous lines in all of Beckett are contained in one of his least-known works, the 1983 prose piece Worstward Ho. ‘All before. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ ... (read more)

Happy Days 

Melbourne Theatre Company
08 May 2023
A middle-aged woman, Winnie, is buried to her waist in the middle of a mound, amidst a dry, monotonous expanse while the scorching sun beats down. It is one of Beckett’s indelible theatrical images. She finds solace in her handbag, where she uncovers a domestic detritus that affords her the rituals and distractions that help her endure: comb, toothbrush, mirror, hat, music box. ... (read more)

There is a celebrated moment in Jonathan Glazer’s 2004 film Birth when Nicole Kidman enters a theatre late and sits down to watch a performance of Wagner’s Die Walküre. The camera remains on her perturbed features for two whole minutes. This image kept recurring as I read Claire Thomas’s new novel, The Performance. In it, three women sit and watch a production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days (1961), alone in their thoughts, their whirring minds only occasionally distracted by the actions on stage. If for nothing else, Thomas must be congratulated on the boldness of her conceit, on her ability to make dynamic a situation of complete stasis.

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July 1970. A graduate student in English at Columbia University was feeling bogged down in her PhD topic. She was only a year or so in and reckoned that there was still time for her to make a switch from medieval sermons to a modern author. She wrote on index cards the names of numerous writers she liked, including James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf. She then arranged them alphabetically. Beckett came out on top (presumably Auden didn’t make the cut). ‘That was how my life in biography began,’ explains Deirdre Bair, who died in April 2020, in time, fortuitously, to see this book published late last year.

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The fact that two of Australia’s major theatre companies are performing Endgame concurrently is, one hopes, merely a coincidence and not a reflection on the national Zeitgeist, for the play is one of the bleakest works in Samuel Beckett’s not exactly sunny canon. If Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot cling desperately to some hope, their co ...

Endgame (MTC)

30 March 2015

Endgame. The title evokes that moment in chess when few pieces are left on the board, when the end is nigh but neither player can be confident of victory; the sense of an ending looms, but any hope of catharsis or resolution feels indulgent and premature – futile even. When the first w ...

It is a theatrical truism that Samuel Beckett remains good box office: the Sydney Theatre Company recently announced its intention to take the 2013 production of Waiting for Godot to the Barbican in 2015, with the original cast. Another truism – adapted from a remark once made by Edward Albee – is that at any moment a Beckett production occurs somewhere in the world. The centenary of his birth in 2006 gave renewed focus to this sustained interest in Beckett’s work, but the Blue Angel/Gate Theatre Beckett on Film Project of 2001 and James Knowlson’s authorised biography of 1996, Damned to Fame, helped set the tone for this new wave of popularity.

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With aching feet, bursting bladders, and the odd carrot for sustenance, Samuel Beckett’s famous pair of tramps have shuffled on to the stage of the Sydney Theatre for an extended run, though run is hardly the apposite word for this stationary duo. Perhaps one could call it an extended slump.

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In a 2009 interview linked to his production of Endgame in which he played Clov, the actor–director Simon McBurney observed that ‘nearly all theatre colleagues I meet have a Beckett story’. My own (second-hand) favourite Beckett story, told me by the Brecht scholar and former deputy editor of the Times Literary Supplement John Willett, might seem too drolly apposite to be true: but he assured me that it was.

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The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol. 1: 1929–1940 edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck

June 2009, no. 312

The play that made Samuel Beckett famous, Waiting for Godot (1953), must be the most unlikely box-office success in theatre history. Its upending of dramatic expectations – its bathetic preferencing of repetition over development, tedium over excitement – is an act of aesthetic brutalism as outrageous in its way as Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ four decades earlier. Yet its depiction of two grubby tramps waiting interminably for someone who never shows up has become a definitive representation of humankind’s state of metaphysical suspension. Life is a conceptual joke: we wait for an explanation that will never be given, beholden to someone or something that, if it is not nothing, might as well be nothing.

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