Exhibition – ‘Seeing Beckett’

As part of our recent conference in Chester and also forthcoming at the Liverpool Irish Festival, the Staging Beckett team are delighted to present an exhibition of contemporary visual art and graphic design curated in collaboration with Matthew Johnson at Liverpool John Moores University, entitled ‘Seeing Beckett’.

The idea behind this exhibition is to attempt to visualise the sensation and affect of an encounter with Samuel Beckett’s work, rather than just a literal representation of Beckett’s characters. The images of artistic and / or applied visual research practice presented here engage with Beckett’s drama, prose, letters, critical writing and / or poetry in many different ways. The makers of the visual works were able to present their own individual and personal take on any of the texts and the original work can be in any media, including three-dimensional, performance and film-based works, albeit remediated in a standard A3 size print. The exhibition consists of experimental projects, works in progress and / or existing works that have been re-imagined for this context.

The exhibition can be seen at Liverpool John Moores University 27 October – 02 November 2014 as part of Liverpool Irish Festival.

Here are a few images from the Chester leg:

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 2






Upcoming Beckett Events at the University of Reading

From the University of Reading:

We will be holding an exhibition and series of public events to celebrate the University’s internationally renowned collection of manuscripts from the Nobel Prize-winning writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989).

Wednesday 1 – Saturday 4 October
Public Exhibition: “Samuel Beckett in London – the Murphy Notebooks”. 
Museum of English Rural Life (free).
At this exhibition, which will focus on Beckett’s time in London between 1934 and 1935, the University’s recently acquired notebooks for Beckett’s novel Murphy will be on display alongside a wide range of other material.

Thursday 2 October
Beckett Archive Workshop. 
2-4pm, Museum of English Rural Life (free). Please book in advance.
Open to all, this free two-hour workshop will introduce the University’s Beckett archive to participants. It is open to any interested members of the public, but places must be booked in advance.

Friday 3 October
Public Lecture and Drinks Reception: Professor Dan Gunn – “Samuel Beckett Through his Letters”.
5.30pm, Minghella Building, Whiteknights Campus (free). Please book in advance.
Dan Gunn is Professor of Comparative Literature and English at the American University of Paris, and editor of the Letters of Samuel Beckett.

Saturday 4 October
The Beckett International Foundation Annual Research Seminar 2014. 
10am, Museum of English Rural Life (£20 waged, £15 unwaged). Includes lunch and refreshments. Please book in advance.
This day-long advanced seminar will explore some of the latest research in Beckett Studies.

For further details and booking please contact:
Workshop and/or Lecture: Conor Carville – c.carville@reading.ac.uk
BIF Seminar: Mark Nixon – m.nixon@reading.ac.uk

Beckett’s Hammersmith Home Takes a Long Pause


Samuel Beckett directing the San Quentin Drama Workshop actors Bud Thorpe and Rick Cluchey. (Photo by Chris Harris, David Gothard Collection.)

Samuel Beckett directing the San Quentin Drama Workshop actors Bud Thorpe and Rick Cluchey. (Photo by Chris Harris, David Gothard Collection.)

On 5th September 2014 the final theatre where Samuel Beckett worked will close its doors to undergo a major three year redevelopment process. It was 30 years ago that the Riverside Studios, an arts centre in Hammersmith, offered Beckett and the San Quentin Drama Workshop a rehearsal space for their production of Waiting for Godot. Indeed 4 years prior to these rehearsals it also hosted their rehearsals for Endgame. Although these productions were not intended for UK audiences, they did go on to be performed across the world under the title ‘Beckett directs Beckett’. Prior to departing for the Adelaide Arts Festival in 1984, they did however perform Godot for school children in the Hammersmith area in what was considered a final dress rehearsal for this production.

The Riverside’s existing facilities and the building that Beckett would have rehearsed in will be replaced under new developments plans. The new Riverside complex is set to reopen in 2017 with facilities that will include three studios, a cinema and screening room, a community & rehearsal area and a much enhanced public entertainment space.

Designs for the new Riverside Studios in 2017.

Designs for the new Riverside Studios in 2017.

Beckett arrived at the Riverside as part of his work with the San Quentin Drama Workshop which stemmed out of his friendship with a former San Quentin prison inmate and Workshop founder, Rick Cluchey. They corresponded frequently over many years about their productions and Cluchey’s persistent suggestions that Beckett view or help out rehearsals paid dividends when Beckett first directed Cluchey in Krapp’s Last Tape in 1977. The following year Beckett helped the group with rehearsals for Endgame in Berlin when he had spare time from his own rehearsals of Spiel (Play) at the Schiller Theater.

During these periods Beckett clearly developed a rapport with the group, whom he referred to as the ‘San Quentinites’ and when a proposed BBC TV production of Eh Joe featuring Cluchey and Billie Whitelaw failed to materialise, Beckett felt a greater sense of responsibility for the group’s touring plans in 1980. His reluctance to return to Dublin, where the 1980 production of Endgame was set to be staged at the Abbey’s Peacock Theatre meant another rehearsal venue had to be found. As a result, the Riverside Studios became an accommodating alternative theatrical home for Beckett in London.
Rehearsing at the Riverside was ‘a happy time for [Beckett]’, where he was in a relaxed mood amongst friends enjoying the creative energy and hospitality shown to him. One of its former employees, Hanif Kureishi, said of the Riverside over these years, ‘For many writers, actors, dancers and artists, Riverside was what a university should be: a place to learn and talk and work and meet your contemporaries. There was no other place like it in London’. Indeed Beckett was one of the many major international artists who worked at the Studios over its lifespan, including Dario Fo, Joan Miro, Antony Gormley and Michael Clark.

Beckett observing rehearsals at the Riverside Studios. (Photo by Chris Harris, David Gothard Collection.)

Beckett observing rehearsals at the Riverside Studios. (Photo by Chris Harris, David Gothard Collection.)

The rehearsals saw Beckett fine tune the productions before they went on tour with Beckett paying greater attention to the shape and precision of the performance. He would often give the actors line readings or offer more specific notes on performing the characters in his plays. Beckett was also open to performing in rehearsals himself and on one occasion, in the absence of Teri Garcia Suro, Beckett performed the role of Nell alongside Alan Mandell as Nagg. A moment described by the actor Bud Thorpe, who played Clov in the production as ‘frighteningly beautiful.’
This period demonstrated the continuous development of Beckett’s creative intuitions. Since he first wrote the plays his perspective as a writer had changed and in rehearsals he would make cuts and changes to the text. Indeed Mandell noted he once said “There’s too much text” with irritation in his voice. He also came to these plays with new experiences as a director, having previously worked on them in German at the Schiller Theater, Berlin. His detailed production notebooks and annotated texts held at the University of Reading’s Beckett Collection illustrate these developments. By the end of rehearsals Beckett left the Riverside tired from his hard work, though pleased with the results of his endeavours. Indeed his biographer James Knowlson called Waiting for Godot in 1984: ‘one of the most beautiful moonlight productions.’
Other productions of Beckett’s work were staged at the Riverside involving some performers synonymous with his theatre. These included Texts (an adaptation of Texts for Nothing and How It Is) performed by Joseph Chaikin in 1981, Rockaby/Footfalls/Enough with Billie Whitelaw and Max Wall in Krapp’s Last Tape in 1986. Furthermore the Riverside staged the first production of Beckett’s drama after his death, with a production of Krapp’s Last Tape and Catastrophe, featuring David Warrilow and bringing together a number of Beckett’s closest friends in the theatre to his alternative theatrical home.
With the Studios closing tomorrow, William Burdett-Coutts stated regarding the venue’s future, ‘In our new environment we will continue to provide a mixed programme of performing art in all its forms as well as the best in cinema and television. Our intention is to combine Riverside’s historic success into a new offering, in which we collaborate with arts organisations from around the country.’ Will Beckett’s drama be part of the Riverside Studios future? We’ll have to wait until 2017…

“It’s all poetic, Walter…”


Walter Asmus in conversation with Nick Johnson for the second Staging Beckett public talk at the Beckett Summer School.

Walter Asmus in conversation with Nick Johnson for the second Staging Beckett public talk at the Beckett Summer School.

On Thursday 14th August 2014 we were delighted to have Walter Asmus in conversation with Dr Nick Johnson for our second Staging Beckett public talk as part of this year’s Samuel Beckett Summer School at Trinity College Dublin.

As Nick wittily put it, Walter has directed Beckett’s drama in ‘all of the world’s inhabited continents’. These productions range from Waiting for Godot at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York to Breath in Russia. In his illustrious career Walter has directed 17 of Beckett’s plays available for the stage-indeed Walter was quick note to the large audience in attendance that the exceptions so far have proved to be Play and Catastrophe.  This week he returned to London for the final rehearsals of Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby as it plays this week at the Southbank Centre, ahead of its UK and international tour. (For further details visit: http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/not-i-footfalls-rockaby-uk-tour)

Staging Beckett team members, Matthew McFrederick and Professor Anna McMullan, alongside Walter Asmus and Dr Nick Johnson at the TCD Beckett Summer School.

Staging Beckett team members, Matthew McFrederick and Professor Anna McMullan, alongside Walter Asmus and Dr Nick Johnson at the TCD Beckett Summer School.

Indeed this recent production, as well as Walter’s experiences working alongside Beckett and his approach to Beckett’s drama as a director led to an insightful discussion in Trinity’s Long Room Hub.

Walter’s conversation with Nick followed an earlier screening of his recent film of What Where, which also showed a documentary of how the film was made at the University of Western Sydney.

In the coming months Walter’s interview at the TCD Samuel Beckett Summer School will be posted on our soon to be launched AHRC Staging Beckett website.

Our second Staging Beckett conference at the University of Chester will host our next public talk with the actress Tricia Kelly. Tricia will talk about her career in the theatre, including her performance as Mouth in Not I at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

‘Staging Beckett at the Margins’ takes place from 11th-12th September 2014 at the University of Chester and will focus on perceived notions of Beckett at the margins, on productions staged outside London and other major theatrical centres. To register, please visit: http://www.chester.ac.uk/staging-beckett


Beckett Events in Belfast

As a gateway event for the Happy Days Beckett Festival in Enniskillen, the Linen Hall Library Belfast is hosting several Beckett-related activities this week.

Tonight, actor Frankie McCafferty will talk about his work performing in Prime Cut’s Endgame, together with a excerpts from Beckett’s work performed  by C21 Theatre Company.

More information and tickets here.

Tomorrow the Library will host a Beckett Colloquium with the following speakers:

Conor Carville on ‘Beckett, Ireland and the 1930s’;
Mark Nixon on ‘Samuel Beckett’s Echo’s Bones’;
Dr Kathryn White (UU) ‘Know Happiness’: Beckett’s Late Works;
Dr Eamonn Hughes (QUB) on ‘Beckett’s Post-war Prose’; and
Dr Sam Slote (Trinity College Dublin) on ‘The Connections Between Beckett and Joyce’.

More information and tickets for this event here.

Throughout these events the ‘Becoming Beckett’ exhibition of materials from the Reading University archives is at the Linen Hall and free to the public:

“For the first time ever in Belfast, a selection of Samuel Beckett’s manuscripts, memorabilia and letters from Reading University’s renowned Beckett Collection will be displayed. Beckett (1906 – 1989) is recognised as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century and a key presence in the ‘theatre of the absurd’ genre. There will also be readings, talks and dramatic performances.”


McCafferty as Clov. Prime Cut, 2006

Publication: Last Tape on Stage in Translation Unwinding Beckett’s Spool in Turkey

One of the most exciting aspects of our recent conference was the opportunity to get a sense of  the variety of work being done on Beckett’s drama internationally – courtesy of our many international delegates. Continuing in this vein, I would like to draw attention to a publication by one of our conference delegates, Burç İdem Dinçel, which addresses translated productions of Krapp’s Last Tape in Turkey.


Picture of Last Tape on Stage in Translation

From Cambridge Scholars Publishing:

Samuel Beckett’s theatrical works maintain a prominent position within contemporary theatre. His plays provide a prodigious potential to study several forms of acting, staging, and dramaturgy, as well as language and translation, thereby setting a fertile ground to tackle the problematic issue of the relationship between theatre criticism and theatre-translation criticism. That is precisely what this study aims at by drawing attention to the fundamental characteristics of translated theatre texts as blueprints for productions and taking several aspects into account from directing to acting, from staging to performance, together with the language factor. To that end, Burç İdem Dinçel focuses on one of Beckett’s significant plays, namely, Krapp’s Last Tape, situating it within the author’s oeuvre and along the way scrutinising not only the theatrical pieces but also the prose. By looking into the Turkish translations and productions of the play, this book brings forth a new dimension into approaching theatre through translation.

For more information and a sample chapter, click here.

For purchase at Amazon UK/ USA


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.

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 stagingbeckett@chester.ac.uk 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!