From the Archives: Peter O’Toole in Waiting for Godot

Born in 1932 in Connemara (or so he claimed), O’Toole passed away in December 2013 at the age of 81. Much has been written about his career of late: he was as notorious for his drinking as much as for his career decisions – his choice, for instance, to take parts in less than top quality films at the point in his career when he was gaining respect for his Shakespearian roles on the stage. This actor lived a life marked by a refusal to accept the mainstream, a reputation for being difficult and demanding, and for enjoying the odd tipple.

Later claiming Waiting for Godot to be his favourite play, it was during the early days of his career that O’Toole played Vladimir (Bristol Old Vic, 1957). Patrick Stewart, who has recently played the part to international acclaim, speaks of O’Toole’s performance as inspirational for him as a then budding drama student.[1] O’Toole played the role again at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in 1969 – the first time the play was performed at this theatre. The story which was doing the rounds prior to this production was how O’Toole had been turned down by the Abbey company in the early days of his career due to the fact that he didn’t have enough Irish. Though, as Desmond Rushe of the Irish Independent wrote, when asked about this, Ernest Blythe denied this ever happened.[2] It is unclear from the news record whether or not the story is apocryphal, although it is mentioned by several reviewers.

The production was well-received, although some reviewers wondered somewhat cynically, who was the greater draw: O’Toole or Beckett. [3] The Irish Times commends the skilled variety style performances of both Donal McCann and Peter O’Toole, and how the latter refrains from showing his star quality virtuosity. The set (Norah McGuinness) together with Leslie Scott’s lighting conveyed ‘all the desolation of Beckett’s wasteland’.[4]

Beckett tried to prevent this production happening, but succeeded only in limiting it to one month and preventing it from becoming a repertory piece.[5] James Knowlson suggests various reasons for this antipathy, from his feelings about Ireland, a personal dislike of O’Toole and a never-forgotten grudge against Alan Simpson for changing the opening lines of the play in 1955. While the Irish reviewers were positive, if cynical, about the casting of a star actor, Beckett reports to Con Levanthal with some satisfaction Mary Manning-Howe’s view of the production as ‘appalling’ and ‘O’Toole-ridden beyond redemption’.[6]

Peter O’Toole, Donal McCann and Danny Figgis went on to play the same roles in a 1971 production of the play, directed by Frederick Monnoyer, at the Nottingham Playhouse.


[2] ‘An Abbey Waiting for Beckett.’ The Irish Independent, 6 November, 1969. University of Reading Archives, Stage Files, MS 1792, f687.

[3] ‘A Great Year for Actors.’ The Irish Independent, 4 January 1970.  University of Reading Archives, Stage Files, MS 1792, f973.

[4] ‘Memorable “Godot” at the Abbey.’ The Irish Times, 2nd December, 1969.

[5] William Hutchings, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: A Reference Guide (USA: Praeger, 2005), p. 87.

[6] Damned to Fame, pp. 566-7.

Fellowship congratulations!

Congratulations from the Staging Beckett team to our colleague at Reading, PhD student Matthew McFrederick. In the last few days, Matthew has learned that he has been offered a fellowship to study at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, as part of the AHRC’s International Placement Scheme. I feel sure that he will return to us with wonderful new material.

Congratulations and best of luck for your research Matthew!

Call for Papers – Staging Beckett at the Margins

University of Chester, 11-12 September 2014

Staging Beckett is a three year collaborative research project undertaken by the universities of Chester, Reading, and the Victoria & Albert Museum which started in September 2012, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project explores Beckett’s impact on British and Irish theatre practice and cultures while also looking at how Beckett has been staged internationally, and it is compiling a database of professional productions of Beckett’s plays in the UK and Ireland.

Our second conference, to be held at the University of Chester, 11-12 September 2014, will focus on perceived notions of Beckett at the margins, on productions staged outside London and other major theatrical centres. What has the impact of Beckett’s drama been upon regional, small national, touring and marginal theatrical practices and cultures? What is at stake when staging Beckett in marginal cultures or lesser-known geographical areas? How does Beckett’s work move from a country’s capital city to its regions? Does Beckett’s work speak to national, or local, cultural contexts? How does it fit within established theatrical, cultural and economic infrastructures?

We are keen to hear from academics and practitioners interested in how Beckett has been, or might be, staged in areas beyond the major theatrical centres of London, Dublin, Paris, New York, Sydney, Tokyo, etc. Issues to consider might be, but are not limited to, the following:

Theatre and local politics

Cultural marginalisation

Small-scale productions

Amateur productions

Planned productions that failed to be realised


Beckett in Scotland

Beckett in Wales

Beckett on tour, nationally and internationally

Beckett as a marginal author

Beckett and subaltern cultures


Please send proposals of c. 150 words to by 31 May 2014.

Staging Beckett at Reading 2014

A big thank you to all those who participated in the Staging Beckett conference at the weekend. We had delegates from around the world – Norway, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, USA, Brazil, India and of course Ireland and the UK, and it was very exciting to get a sense of the rich and varied approaches to Beckett’s drama and the ways in which the drama continues to resonate within these unique cultural contexts.

Thank you also to our wonderful keynote speakers. Professor Brian Singleton of Trinity College, Dublin spoke eloquently about Dr Sarah Jane Scaife’s site-specific productions of Beckett’s drama, specifically the ways in which this work has made visible the overlooked spaces of Dublin city, and their ignored and often homeless inhabitants. Dr Scaife herself shared a keynote panel with actress Lisa Dwan and director Natalie Abrahami. They each spoke of the various routes by which they came to Beckett’s drama and how their work has developed; our conference was greatly enriched by the insights of these practitioners and scholars.

Most of all however, thanks go to those who made the event possible: organiser Prof Anna McMullan and assistants Tom, Nick, Shonagh and Niamh.

We look forward to meeting you all again at the University of Chester in September – a call for papers to follow shortly – and/or at Reading next year!