Bann Beckett

by Kathyrn White, University of Ulster

During the summer of 2015, Ulster University’s School of English and History, in partnership with Riverside Theatre, devised Bann Beckett, an innovative project for both the university and for the general public. This initiative, its name inspired by the river Bann, beside which the Coleraine Campus is located, is designed to assist learning and teaching at Ulster and also bring together ‘Gown and Town’ in shared appreciation of the work of Samuel Beckett. Events including workshops, pre-show talks and three separate productions of Beckett’s work took place between November 2015 and February 2016.

Students studying English at Ulster University are introduced to Beckett in their first year, with Waiting for Godot functioning as one of their formative texts. In addition, they have the opportunity to study Beckett in second and third year as well as at postgraduate level. Therefore, it was fitting that Bann Beckett launched with London Classic Theatre’s production of Waiting for Godot. A workshop led by the actors took place prior to the main performance, which gave students the opportunity to ask questions about the production. They probed the actors, endeavouring to garner elucidation about the ‘meaning’ of Beckett’s seminal work. The actors’ generosity of spirit and their willingness to interact with the students facilitated deeper engagement with the play, enabling ‘learner-centred’ teaching and an appreciation of the medium of theatre. Reflecting on the importance of the Godot production and workshop, Dr Frank Ferguson, module co-ordinator for the first year compulsory module on which the play features, commented:


In the first instance, having Godot in the university theatre was marvellous in itself as students could then get the full experience of the play as a performance and reflect upon the requirements of staging and adaptation rather than merely reading and discussing a “flat” text. In addition, the workshop proved to be a very exciting and rewarding occasion for the students as they were able to ask questions which were directly relevant to their course and it was obvious how much they gained from the experience. The actors were very generous with their time and provided fascinating insights into their various roles and approaches to the play. This event was extremely beneficial to developing students’ concepts of the requirements of drama and Beckett’s work in particular, and indeed very inspiring to me as a teacher as it helped challenge the belief in some that Godot was a “difficult” play. The success of the event was demonstrated in a number of ways: it permitted students to gain a means to comprehend Beckett as an accessible and indeed comedic playwright; it gave many their first experience of serious, live theatre; it was reflected in enhanced capability to perform in coursework and examinations; and it inspired many students to develop their interest in drama and follow this up in module pathways over the coming terms and years.


Following Godot, in February 2016, Gare St Lazare Ireland presented Molloy. Conor Lovett’s ability to perfectly capture the Beckettian voice and convey the pathos, along with the humour, found in Beckett’s writing, undoubtedly impacts the audience. In a Q&A session following the performance, one woman commented that although she had been reading Beckett for a number of years, and had seen many productions of his work, during Lovett’s performance she felt she had truly understood Beckett. The significance of a statement like this is not to be underestimated and it highlights the fundamental importance of continuing to stage Beckett. Prior to Lovett’s performance, Professor David Pattie (University of Chester) delivered a talk on Beckett’s life and the influences on his work, focusing on the importance of the voice in the writing. The inaugural Bann Beckett ended with Declan McGauran’s intriguing performance in ‘Beginning to End’, which was complemented by a comprehensive pre-show talk by Dr Nick Johnson (Trinity College Dublin), on the genesis of the production. Recordings were made of both pre-show talks and these have been, and will continue to be, utilised in lectures and seminars.

The Bann Beckett project aims to make Beckett’s writing more accessible to students and the public alike. Inevitably, those of us involved in education think about the pedagogical approaches of teaching Beckett’s work but we should not overestimate the fundamental importance of affording students the opportunity of seeing Beckett’s works performed. Working directly with Jeremy Lewis, the Riverside Theatre Manager, enabled a collaboration which had a measurable impact on students studying Beckett’s work and the general public. Jeremy writes:


Feedback from those both who took part in, and who attended as audience members, show Bann Beckett was everything I had hoped for as theatre manager. It was an entirely new development for the Riverside – we’ve had nothing like it in the theatre’s forty-year history – and audience numbers were most satisfactory. I was particularly pleased that a large group of UU undergraduates met the cast of one of the plays and their encounter is audio-recorded on Riverside’s website. In the final analysis, the plays, the lectures, the group sessions and workshops proved to be highly enjoyable and of immense benefit to the continuing research surrounding Ireland’s greatest playwright.


Bann Beckett looks forward to continued collaboration with individuals and institutions in the celebration of the work of Samuel Beckett.




Commencez! Paris Beckett March 2016

By Trish McTighe

It is with great sadness that we have learned that this year’s Happy Days Beckett Festival has been cancelled. I hope that the situation will be rectified in time for next year and that the Paris wing of the festival, which premièred this year, will also continue. The following is a short piece on the musical highlights of the Commencez! Paris Beckett ‘16 events.


One of the delights of the Beckett festivities that Sean Doran brings to life is the way in which they allow us to hear the music that Beckett loved and experience the extent to which this music permeated his work. This is the case with the Festival in its Enniskillen manifestations and it is no less the case with the recent Paris incarnation of the event. While the extensive Commencez! Paris Beckett programme balanced live performance and visual art with musical performance, I happened to experience several events of the latter variety. I was in Paris from the 22nd of April to the 25th and was privileged to represent the Staging Beckett project team of the University of Reading at the reception at the British Ambassador’s residence. I was fortunate also to attend Ian Bostridge’s performance of Schubert’s Winterreise in the American Cathedral. The latter piece is so clearly linked to Beckett – it was a favourite of the author’s – but both events managed to reach toward the Beckettian sublime. I have seen this emerge at the Enniskillen Festival and I am delighted to have seen it flourish in Paris as well. It is, in short, a sense of stillness, a moment of quietness in the midst of busy lives, and a bustling city. It is a sense of quietness, or better still quietude, that reflects what the author himself sought through music and through art.

Hearing Bostridge sing reminded me of the extent to which Schubert’s music resonates and remains within Beckett’s work – the sparseness, the musical precision and the unflinching gaze through the veil into the quick of mortality. If the festival in Paris achieved anything, it was this exact thing: a moment of quietness which allowed gathered audiences to cut a glimpse through to the quick of existence, the irreducibility of the mortal body and its inevitable end – searing honesty couple with aesthetic beauty. Bostridge’s skill is such that he captures and communicates all this in his voice.

The evening at the Ambassador’s, though perhaps less sombre in tone, musically speaking, was no less affecting. Music from two stunning sopranos, followed by a reading of Beckett’s short piece ‘One Evening’ and an extract from Eliot’s Wasteland. The Beckett piece was a treat for those less familiar with it, and brought a shard of something a little less pure perhaps – the piece describes the discovery of a corpse in a field – into the sumptuous surroundings of the magnificent residence on Rue de Fauborg, a shadow into the warm chandelier-glow of the Ambassador’s salon. Again, a reminder of the truths of being amidst the splendour; ‘all the light and dark and famine and feasting’ as Beckett’s Krapp might put it.

It is my hope that events like these will continue. Not only for the sake of the aesthetic value that I highlight here but also for the rich network of cultural labourers, visual artists, actors, directors, musicians, as well as those engaged in producing, funding and so on – the engines of culture in other words – that the Festival managed to bring together. We know that the author would have fled to the hills rather than attend anything conspicuously in his honour. Yet we might surmise that he would have been quietly pleased to know that others shared in the appreciation of beautiful music. And art. And performance. And in his adopted home no less. I will be looking forward to next year’s events with eagerness.


Upcoming Conference: Draff at Trinity College Dublin, August 2016



5th–6th August, 2016

Trinity College Dublin


Keynote speakers:
Mark Nixon (University of Reading)

Dirk Van Hulle (Universiteit Antwerpen)



Call For Papers

Deadline for abstracts: 15th November, 2015



‘I don’t suppose many people know what “Draff” is, but if they look it up, they will be put off.’

Charles Prentice to Samuel Beckett (25th September, 1933)


As suggested by his original title for More Pricks Than Kicks (1934), and proved by the pochades, roughs, foirades, and (un)abandoned works of his mature œuvre, works often presented by their author as being no more than the run-off from the creative process, Beckett was anything but put off by draff. The same can surely be said of the scholars who have long devoted themselves to studying Beckett’s aesthetic engagement with the seemingly worthless.

In recent decades, however, Beckett Studies’ fascination with the residual has taken a much more literal meaning as the field, as well as its perception of Beckett and his art, has been reshaped by unprecedented access to the refuse, dregs, and lees of a voluminous archive, as well as the blackened pages of forgotten diaries and private correspondence. Despite, or perhaps because of, this flood of fresh effluvia, however, particular aspects of, and questions pertaining to, Beckett’s canon have been left unexamined, understudied, or wholly ignored.

Taking place next year in Trinity College Dublin, two decades after Damned to Fame (1996) opened a new chapter in Beckett scholarship, this bilingual conference invites proposals for 20-minute papers, in English or French, from prospective delegates who, sharing Beckett’s conviction in the value of what is left behind, are keen to pick through the ends and odds of Beckett Studies:

  • Why, for instance, does Beckett’s poetry continue to attract so little critical attention?
  • The nature of Beckett’s relation to Joyce and Proust has provoked much debate, but what are we to make of Beckett’s lesser-studied literary influences (e.g. Burton, Camus, Dostoevsky, and Hölderlin)?
  • What are the correspondences between Beckett’s writing and the lesser-studied cultural and political spaces in which he lived and worked, such as France during the Franco-Algerian war?
  • As we deepen our awareness of the role played by the visual arts in Beckett’s work, what might that same work have owed to his keen ear for music and his love of certain composers (e.g. Beethoven’s pauses, Schubert’s Lieder)?
  • At a time of increasing interest in the bilingual Beckett, what was the role of Beckett’s lesser-known languages (e.g. German, Latin, Spanish) and, as we come to a better knowledge of Beckett’s own work as a translator, what might there be to gain in examining how Beckett’s art has been reimagined by those translators – and performers – who have made his words heard in languages he himself did not speak (e.g. Chinese, Dutch, Polish)?
  • With the approaching publication of the German Diaries and the final volume of Beckett’s letters, to what uses can and should scholars put the inestimable trove of material represented by the biographic archive?
  • How might the publication of such (auto)biographic material affect our appreciation of Beckett’s canons – the published, the ‘grey’, and the emerging? Where within this continuum should we situate the work he consigned to the wastepaper basket or, indeed, the ‘old shit’ he allowed to be republished?

Abstracts of no more than 300 words, in English or French, as well as a short bio of no more than 150 words, should be sent to conference organisers Stephen Stacey and James Little at no later than 15th November 2015. Whilst prospective delegates are encouraged to consider those topics outlined above, proposals for papers addressing any heretofore under-analysed aspect of Beckett’s ‘literary waste’ are warmly welcomed for this two-day conference, during which both Beckett’s and Beckett Studies’ disjecta membra will be dragged into the ‘pestiferous sunlight’ of scholarly discourse.

For further information and conference updates, please consult the conference website: There you will also find information on the association between this conference and the Samuel Beckett Summer School (, taking place in Trinity College Dublin from 8th–12th August, 2016.


Waiting for Godot at 60: An Exhibition

Waiting for Godot at 60: An Exhibition

Waiting for Godot at 60: An Exhibition


Following its positive reception at our April Conference, the Staging Beckett exhibition, Waiting for Godot at 60: An Exhibition, is currently on tour in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, for the duration of the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival.
The exhibition contains materials relating to a wide range of productions of Waiting for Godot staged across the UK, Ireland and international platforms. These include productions such as premieres of Godot in Paris (Théâtre de Babylone, 1953), Berlin (Schlosspark, 1953), London (Arts, 1955) and Dublin (Pike, 1955), as well as later productions at the Nottingham Playhouse with Peter O’Toole (in 1971), the Gate Theatre in Dublin (from 1988-2008) directed by Walter Asmus, and more recent performances such as the Theatre Royal Haymarket (in 2009). In what we believe may be an Irish premiere, Samuel Beckett’s Production Notebook 2 and Warten auf Godot text for his 1975 Schiller Theater Berlin performance are also on display. Furthermore, the exhibition links itself to Beckett’s connections with Enniskillen, as it contains programmes and reviews for performances of Waiting for Godot at Portora Royal School – the school Beckett attended from 1920-1923.


Beckett attended Portora Royal School from 1920-1923

Beckett attended Portora Royal School from 1920-1923

Professor Anna McMullan guiding some visitors around Waiting for Godot at 60 during its opening at the Higher Bridges Gallery in the Clinton Centre, Enniskillen.

Professor Anna McMullan guiding some visitors around Waiting for Godot at 60 during its opening at the Higher Bridges Gallery in the Clinton Centre, Enniskillen.













Waiting for Godot at 60: An Exhibition coincides with the Festival’s programming of the Berliner Ensemble’s performances of Warten auf Godot directed by George Tabori and the 60th year anniversary of the British and English language premiere of Waiting for Godot at the Arts Theatre in London, which was performed on 3rd August 1955.
We appreciate the support of Guy Baxter, Sarah McHugh and the Happy Days Festival team for making this exhibition come to fruition. We are also grateful to the Beckett International Foundation, the Victoria and Albert Museum (particularly for their permission to use photographs of productions held in their Houston Rodgers and Douglas Jeffrey Collections) and to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for their continued support.

Part of the Waiting for Godot at 60 Exhibition

Part of the Waiting for Godot at 60 Exhibition

Waiting for Godot at 60: An Exhibition is curated by Matthew McFrederick, Anna McMullan and Mark Nixon. The Exhibition is open from 10am to 6pm until 2nd August at the Higher Bridges Gallery in the Clinton Centre, Enniskillen and is free.

BBC Artsnight to present Beckett episode

Ian McKellan and Richard Wilson discuss their interest in Samuel Beckett's drama.

Ian McKellan and Richard Wilson discuss their interest in Samuel Beckett’s drama.

One of the real joys of the working on the Staging Beckett project has been the opportunity to meet and discuss Beckett’s theatre with the practitioners, who have contributed to the 60 year history we (the Staging Beckett team) have been uncovering. Believe it or not, on Monday 13th July another unique opportunity arose as I got to meet the renowned actor and director Richard Wilson, when he travelled to the Beckett Collection at the University of Reading.


Richard Wilson and James Knowlson during the filming of the BBC's upcoming Artsnight episode dedicated to Samuel Beckett.

Richard Wilson and James Knowlson during the filming of the BBC’s upcoming Artsnight episode dedicated to Samuel Beckett.



Richard was in Reading to interview the University’s Emeritus Professor and Beckett biographer James Knowlson, and view many of the original items stored in the archive concerning the performance history of Waiting for Godot. Their interview will form part of the next episode of BBC’s Artsnight – dedicated to Samuel Beckett – which will air on Friday 31st July at 11pm on BBC2. This programme will be presented by Richard and includes interviews with Jim as well as some of the foremost practitioners of Beckett’s drama including Hugo Weaving, Lisa Dwan and Juliet Stephenson, as well as a visit to the Happy Days Enniskillen Beckett Festival in Northern Ireland.


During our day of filming, Richard was a real gentleman and great company throughout, happily speaking about everything from his interest in Beckett and Sarah Kane to his love of Manchester United. Richard met the University’s Vice Chancellor Sir David Bell and followed up on his genuine passion in Beckett’s work by viewing many of the Collections theatre materials. He has a long held interest in Beckett’s drama beyond his notable TV career, and has performed in Waiting for Godot twice: at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh (in 1968) and at the Manchester Royal Exchange (in 1999). He is presently Associate Director at Sheffield Theatres, where he performed in Krapp’s Last Tape in the Studio Theatre in June 2014.

In a lively interview amongst the archival stacks, Richard asked Jim about those first productions of Godot in Paris and London and Beckett’s impact on the theatre more broadly. On one occasion they even reversed the roles as Jim asked Richard about his approach to performing the roles of Vladimir and Krapp. In good spirits, Jim and Richard concluded the interview with their very own double act moment as they read a small section of Vladimir and Estragon’s dialogue. Hopefully that prospect alone will whet your appetite to watch Friday’s episode!

James Knowlson with Richard Wilson and the BBC Artsnight team at the University of Reading.

James Knowlson with Richard Wilson and the BBC Artsnight team at the University of Reading.

For more information on Friday’s programme visit:

Jocelyn Herbert and Samuel Beckett: An Exhibition


Exhibition dates:

25 March – 10 April 2015
Opening event:
Tuesday 24 March, 5 – 8pm

Wimbledon College of Art, Merton Hall Road, London


MA Curating and Collections at Chelsea College of Arts present an exhibition exploring the working relationship between the acclaimed theatre and film designer, Jocelyn Herbert, and the playwright and author, Samuel Beckett.

The materials for the exhibition are selected from the Jocelyn Herbert Archive at the National Theatre, the NT’s only archive dedicated to a designer. The archive includes sketchbooks, set and costume drawings, annotated scripts, research material, notebooks and diaries, masks and puppets, correspondence, personal photographs and official production photography from rehearsals and performances. Herbert’s working relationship with Beckett spans from the 1950’s to the 1970’s; using artefacts from the archive the exhibition will reveal aspects of the biography of Jocelyn Herbert, her personal and professional relationships, and will give a unique insight into the theatre making process.

JH Quote

This show is curated by the Exhibition Studio Workshop – the practice-based unit of Chelsea’s MA Curating and Collections course. It is part of a series of shows entitled Work From the Collections, and is the inaugural exhibition in what is hoped will be an ongoing series exploring the Jocelyn Herbert Archive at the National Theatre.

For further information visit:

Image: Samuel Beckett and Jocelyn Herbert. Photo from the Jocelyn Herbert Archive at the National Theatre.
Photographer: John Haynes

Registration Now Open for April Conference!


Staging Beckett and Contemporary Theatre and Performance Cultures

Minghella Building,
University of Reading

9th-11th April 2015



Thursday 9th April

10.00 -11.00 Registration & coffee


11.00 – 11.30 Welcome and opening address


11.30 – 13.30 Panel 1: Performance and the Archive

David Houston Jones (University of Exeter), Performing the Archive in Samuel Beckett

Sinead Mooney (De Montfort University), ‘Centre and Circumference’: Traces of Provincial Godots in the Theatrical Archive, 1955-1970

Racquel Merino (University of the Basque Country), Beckett and Spanish stage censorship (1955-1976)

Kene Igweonu (Canterbury Christ Church University), Talawa’s Waiting for Godot


13.30 – 14.30 Lunch (served each day in the foyer of the Minghella Building)


14.30 – 16.30 Panel 2: The Performing Body

Hannah Simpson (Boston University), “Is there anything you ever write for an actor that isn’t physically painful?”: The Actor’s Physical Suffering in the Beckettian Production.

Andrew Head (University of Hull), Beckett’s Implied Actor: Debts, Legacies and a Contemporary Performance Culture.

Niamh Bowe (University of Reading), Ethics in Contemporary Performance: Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby at the Royal Court Theatre, 2014.

Andrew Lennon (University of Birmingham), Beckett and Darkness: The drive to and the flight from …


16.30-17.00 Coffee


17.00 – 18.00 Keynote 1: Phillip Zarrilli, Embodied consciousness in the actor’s practice: reflections from “inside” Beckett’s texts in performance


18.00 – 19.30 Wine reception and launch of the exhibition ‘Waiting for Godot: 60 years on’ and the Staging Beckett database


Friday 10th April

8.30 – 9.00 Registration & coffee


9.00 – 11.00 Panel 3: Sonic Legacies & Radiophonic Echoes

Pim Verhulst (University of Antwerp), Beckett’s ‘Adaphatroce’: Rethinking Theatre through Radio

Paul Stewart (University of Nicosia), Adapting Lessness: Lessons from Radio and Stage

Lisa Fitzgerald (NUI Galway), Radio Waves: Pan Pan, the BBC and Performing the Radiophonic Body

Catherine Laws (University of York), The Legacy of Beckett in Music Theatre


11.00 – 11.15 Coffee


11.15-12.45 Panel 4: Word and Gesture

Jack Belloli (University of Cambridge), Beckett, Forced Entertainment and the Grace of Audience Gesture

Burç İdem Dinçel (Trinity College Dublin), ‘”The motion alone is not enough”: Hearing Beckett’s Footfalls in Suzuki’s Grammar of the Feet’

David Tucker (University of Chester), ‘Smile Off’: Beckett’s Stage Directions and Performance History


12.45-1.30 Lunch

Exhibition open 12 – 2pm


1.30 – 14.30 Keynote 2: Derval Tubridy, Practice, Performance and the Figural Body


14.30 – 14.45 Coffee


14.45 – 16.45 Panel 5: Irish Theatre and Performance Cultures

David Clare (NUI, Galway), The Gate Theatre’s Beckett Festivals: Tensions between the Local and the Global

Siobhan O’Gorman (Trinity College, Dublin), Beckett out of Focus: Happy Days and Waiting for Godot at Dublin’s Focus Theatre

Rodney Sharkey (Weill Cornell Medical College, Qatar), “The Dark Back Streets:” Beckett in the City


16.45 – 17.00 Coffee


17.00. – 18.00 Keynote 3: S. E. Gontarski, Samuel Beckett in Performance: The Questions We Ask


18.00 – 19.00 Wine reception and launch of Jim Knowlson’s Festschrift


20.00 Conference dinner at Loch Fyne, The Maltings Bear Wharf, Fobney St, Reading. See separate registration via the Online Store. If attending the dinner, you must book in advance.


Saturday 11th April

9.00-9.30 Registration and coffee


9.30-11.00 Panel 6: Staging Beckett in International Theatre Cultures

Anita Rákóczy (Eötvös Loránd University of Sciences & Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary), Earth That Shakes. Earth That Covers. Godot and Happy Days, 2014: Two Beckett Premières in Katona József Theatre, Budapest

Luzmaria Sanchez (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana / Lerma (Mexico), Beckett in Mexico

Stefano Rosignoli (University of London), Oh les beaux jours: Venice Premiere and Reception in Italy


11.00-11.15 Coffee


11.15- 1.15: Panel 7: Adaptation, Performance & Intermediality

Sozita Goudouna (Royal Holloway, University of London), Beckett’s Intermedial Breath: Defying The Boundaries Between Staging and Displaying

Nicholas Johnson (Trinity College, Dublin), “The Neatness of Identifications”: Transgressing Beckett’s Genres in Ireland and Northern Ireland, 2000-2015

James Little (Trinity College, Dublin), The Politics of Performance at 14 Henrietta Street: Beckett and Anú Productions

Roman Fohr (University of Amiens), Life Flashing in a Work of Art


1.15 – 2.00 Lunch

Exhibition open 12 – 2pm


2.00 – 3.00 Keynote 4: Ronald Pickup in conversation


3.00 – 3.30 Coffee


3.30 – 17.30 Samuel Beckett Laboratory Workshop: Samuel Beckett and Experimental Cultures: a performance workshop on The Unnamable & Not I

Co-facilitators: Jonathan Heron & Nicholas Johnson

Please note that places for the workshop are limited and available on a first registered basis only


3.30 – 17.30 Making Performance Histories: Staging Beckett & Beyond

This is an interactive session utilizing the ‘Waiting for Godot at 60’ exhibition materials in order to critically reflect on how such archival materials help to generate performance histories. The session will provide an opportunity to engage with issues which are important within Beckett Studies and in theatre and performance studies more generally such as the processes of documenting performance, the ways in which we remember (and forget) performance, the elements of performance that the archive fails to record, the problematics of generating narrative from archival remnants, and the relationship between the archive and the institution.


17.30 – 18.30 Closing remarks and repair to Park House on the University of Reading campus.

Tribute to Billie Whitelaw

The Staging Beckett team, the Beckett International Foundation and colleagues at the University of Reading are deeply saddened to hear of the death of Billie Whitelaw, a close friend of Samuel Beckett’s and a foremost interpreter of his drama.

Billie appeared in iconic stage, film and television roles, including playing Desdemona opposite Laurence Olivier in Shakepeare’s Othello at the National Theatre in 1965, and appearing in such films as The Omen and The Krays. However she will be particularly remembered for her long term collaboration with Samuel Beckett.

Billie first appeared in Beckett’s Play in 1964, and went on to perform in the premieres of Not I, Footfalls (specially written for her by Beckett) and Rockaby, and the television plays Ghost Trio and …but the clouds…. Beckett described her performance in the BBC television version of Not I (1975), as ‘miraculous’.

Billie had a close association with the University of Reading’s Beckett International Foundation since she became the first Annenberg Fellow in 1992 . During her week-long residency she gave a series of workshops and performances for staff, students and members of the public. Over the years she has been an important supporter of the Beckett Collection and was a Patron of the Beckett International Foundation. In 2001 she received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Reading.

The University of Reading and the Beckett International Foundation recently purchased the unique archive of Billie Whitelaw’s work with Beckett. The archive, funded by generous contributions from the Beckett International Foundation, the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries, will be made available to the public as soon as possible. It will be a fitting tribute to a magnificent actress and dedicated friend, muse and favourite actress of Samuel Beckett.


Reading acquires actress Billie Whitelaw’s Beckett Archive


Billie Whitelaw’s costume for Footfalls, RM Arts, 1988. © Sotheby’s


The University of Reading and the Beckett International Foundation are delighted to announce the purchase of a unique archive of actress Billie Whitelaw’s work with playwright Samuel Beckett.

The £35,000 acquisition, funded by generous contributions from the Beckett International Foundation, the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries, was made at an auction at Sotheby’s, London, last week.

Billie Whitelaw was Irish writer and Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett’s favourite actress. He directed her in several theatrical productions and revivals of his plays. The collection includes correspondence, annotated playscripts, rehearsal notes for some of Beckett’s most famous works, including Play, Not I, Happy Days, Rockaby, Eh Joe, Embers and Footfalls, as well costumes worn by Billie during performances of Footfalls and Rockaby.

The items will join the rest of the University’s Beckett Collection, which is the world’s largest collection of manuscript materials relating to Beckett. This will offer anyone with an interest in Beckett’s plays or the theatre – including scholars, students and theatre practitioners – a unique insight into how one of the world’s greatest writers worked with his actors.

Dr Mark Nixon, Director of the Beckett International Foundation at the University of Reading, said: ‘The University of Reading is arguably the centre of Beckett studies worldwide. This is a wonderful addition to our collection. The material complements our existing material relating to the plays they worked on together, such as Beckett’s own directorial notes as well as most of the relevant draft manuscripts and typescripts. The mind of one the most renowned playwrights, as well his crucial working relationship with actors, can now all be studied under one roof.”

Billie Whitelaw has had close links with the University of Reading since 1992 when she became the first Annenberg Fellow. During her week-long residency, she gave a series of workshops and performances for staff, students and members of the public. Over the years she has been an important supporter of the Beckett Collection and is still a Patron of the Beckett International Foundation. In 2001 she received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Reading.

Billie famously performed Not I in 14 minutes at the Royal Court in 1973. The University hosted two rare performances of this iconic Samuel Beckett work which were performed by Lisa Dwan in 2013.

Professor James Knowlson, University of Reading Emeritus Professor, friend of Beckett and his sole authorised biographer, said: “Billie Whitelaw has so many connections with the University of Reading that it is the natural place for her Beckett material to be held. We are very thrilled to have been able to purchase it.”

The Billie Whitelaw archive will feature in public events (such as exhibitions) and in undergraduate and postgraduate teaching programmes.

Guy Baxter, University Archivist, said: “This is an important investment. Theatre is such a collaborative art form so we need to document the work of the actors, designers and others who help to bring works from the script to the stage. It is wonderful to be able to gain a greater understanding of how Beckett worked with his actors, and we hope that this archive will enable researchers to do that. We would like to thank our funders for their generosity in helping us to purchase it.”