As a world centre for Samuel Beckett research, in January media spoke to University of Reading experts about the 60th anniversary of Beckett’s play ‘Waiting for Godot’. Emeritus Professor Jim Knowlson, a friend of Beckett and his official biographer, was featured on the BBC News website talking about how the play has grown from a tiny performance in Paris to a West End Hit.
Saturday 5January marks the 60th anniversary of one of the most important plays of the 20th century, Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’.
Beckett transformed modern theatre across the world with ‘Godot’ and as the global centre for Beckett research for over 30 years, the University of Reading is playing a leading role in furthering our understanding of the influence of the great Irish playwright.
The University of Reading’s Beckett Collection is the world’s largest collection of resources relating to Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). University academics are exploring the impact of Beckett on twenty first century literature, philosophy, culture and media, visual and performing arts.
“‘Waiting for Godot” changed the rules of 21st century theatre,’ said Professor Anna McMullan from the University’s Department of Film, Theatre and Television. “It cleared the stage of furniture and complex plots and really reduced the theatre to human beings on stage, interacting with each other. The very spare, minimal aesthetic has had a huge influence on writers, designers and directors since then and still has an influence today.”
Godot’s’ central themes of uncertainty, waiting, how we fill our time and our dependence on others, ensure the play resonates with audiences across the globe.
Dr Mark Nixon, Director of the University of Reading’s Beckett International Foundation, said: “Considering that ‘Waiting for Godot’ was first perceived to be a failed play which was met with bafflement and even hostility, the play has since become a global phenomenon and has very often been staged in situations of adversity such as Sarajevo in 1993, South Africa during apartheid and most recently after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.”
The Beckett Archive is home to over 600 items of original Beckett material, including manuscript drafts, annotated copies and corrected copies, nearly 500 editions of Beckett’s work in more than 20 languages and stage files relating to over 680 productions of Beckett plays.
University of Reading Emeritus Professor James Knowlson, Beckett’s biographer and friend, founded the Beckett Archive.
“The Archive is a phenomenon, the biggest Samuel Beckett Collection in the world.” said Professor Knowlson. “It’s been a passion for so many of our students and staff and people come from all over world to the University of Reading to consult one of the jewels in our crown.”
The University of Reading is also leading a new project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, that will put Beckett’s impact on modern theatre practice in the UK and Ireland under the spotlight for the very first time.
“Beckett is one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century,” continued Professor McMullan. “We know that he influenced playwrights from Edward Albee to Harold Pinter and the African American writer, Suzan-Lori Parks, but what was the impact of Beckett’s theatre on the many directors, designers, performers, companies and venues that staged his work the length and breadth of these islands?”
In 2012 Oscar-winning film producer Lord David Puttnam officially opened the Minghella Building the University’s new state of the art home for its Department of Film, Theatre and Television. The £11 million building houses two fully-equipped studio theatres an experimental performance space, a digital cinema, TV studio, post-production suites, as well as prop and costume workshops.
These outstanding facilities are inspiring the Becketts of tomorrow and allowing the next generation of talented performers, directors and technicians for stage and screen to blossom. Combined with the University’s academic expertise they provide the ideal environment in which to conduct world-class research and attracted one Reading PhD student with a very special Beckett connection.
Matthew McFrederick attended the same school as Samuel Beckett, Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.
He said: “For me it all started with ‘Waiting for Godot. Performing in the play at Portora was a captivating and challenging experience which made me think about theatre differently, and I can certainly see how other people are returning to Beckett and being influenced afresh.
“I’m delighted to be at the University of Reading. The fantastic holdings in the Archive, the academic staff and the research facilities are second to none, it is truly the place to be to conduct research into the impact of Samuel Beckett’s drama.”