"Such a dramatisation of lavatory necessities is offensive"

As I previously noted Peter Hall has a new production of Waiting for Godot, at the Theatre Royal, Bath, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the first English production of the play.. which, at the age of 24, he was also responsible for. In today’s Guardian he looks back fondly to that production, while generously reviewing his new production. Heh. And congratulates the audiences, beyond the preview that is, for their less than reverential approach to the timeless masterpiece. But he’s not a happy man, as The Independent also reported earlier this month.

Hall wanted to bring the show to London in September only to have that idea vetoed by London’s Barbican Centre and the Gate Theatre in Dublin, who have the rights to all Beckett plays ahead of the Beckett Centenary celebration planned for April 2006.

He also, perhaps unfairly, refers back to the original production’s problems with the Lord Chamberlain’s blue pencil – an interesting comparison to the previously noted Committee on Evil Literature – and the complaints of the more genteel members of the earlier audiences –

When in 1955 the play transferred to the Criterion (a public theatre governed by the licensing authorities), the lord chamberlain – censor of the day – busily exercised his blue pencil. Beckett was amazed that in England, the cradle of free speech, the theatre – unlike books or broadcasting or film – was heavily censored by the government.

The lord chamberlain was very disturbed by the word “erection” and insisted it be removed. There were several attempts to ban the play altogether. A letter from Lady Dorothy Howitt was recently released under the Freedom of Information Act. It asked the lord chamberlain to ban the play: “One of the many themes running through the play is the desire of two old tramps continually to relieve themselves. Such a dramatisation of lavatory necessities is offensive and against all sense of British decency.”

If Beckett was amazed then.. Hall suggests his reaction to the current situation would be somewhat similar –

At a time when Sam should be universally celebrated as his centenary approaches, they have all the rights in the plays for their own big Beckett centenary festival in April next year and insist on this moratorium. So no one else may celebrate Sam’s life and work in London from next week onwards. Sam would have found such a situation very whimsical.

20 thoughts on “"Such a dramatisation of lavatory necessities is offensive"”

  1. Thanks for this, Pete.

    I do wonder if Sam would care at all though. This is the man who gave Krapp the words “Crawled out once or twice, before the summer was cold. Sat shivering in the park, drowned in dreams and burning to be gone.”

  2. I remember a few years back when Deborah Warner tinkered with the stage directions for “Footfalls” she received a fatwa from the Estate for her pains. They are complete control freaks.

  3. Yoda

    “I do wonder if Sam would care at all though.”

    I suspect he would be amazed that he was still around for his own centenary festival before any other considerations were entertained.

  4. Dunno about “fatwa.” After all, Beckett was a demon about his stage directions as well.

    Bad as they are, they could not be worse than Stephen Joyce.

  5. Yoda,

    True, and this is why I think Hall’s claim to speak for Beckett in this is suspect. The directions in the script are precise and were not intended to be optional. Given the lack of wiggle room for directors I suspect Beckett would have wondered what was the point of having more than one production running.

  6. Jimmy

    I agree it’s a little suspect.

    I think that Hall’s position is probably due to the fact that his career is for the most part due to Beckett and for that reason he seems to feel he has a proprietary relation with Beckett’s work.

    I’m also a little mystified by how he reckons Beckett’s work is “less absurd” now.

  7. Yoda,

    I read the remark differently. I think he regards the term as suspect. It may be appropriate to descibe someone like Ionesco for example, but for Beckett I think it misleads.

  8. I wouldn’t be so dismissive of Hall’s position, Yoda.

    He has a good case for the 50th anniversary production of Godot. Given that it appears to be a successful run.. it can be argued that he is being forced to cut that run much shorter than it otherwise would be.. with no possible further performances, by anyone, until April next year.

  9. “Aburd” is certainly not the best word to describe Beckett’s work, but it has its uses. I don’t know where you stand on Beckett, but I do think that the plays are generally concerned with scraping away all the stories and distractions we construct distract ourselves from a fundamental lack of meaning. Beckett seems to imply that humans fundamentally don’t seem to be able to cope with such meaninglessness and keep making such stories up. Even those with no illusions don’t seem to be able to help themselves. It’s this lack of meaning that makes the tag “absurdity” apt for Beckett’s plays.

    Obviously, it’s hard to tell from short quotes in a newspaper, but I got the impression Hall was suggesting that Beckett’s work is now somehow more amenable to rationalistic and “meaningful” interpretations. Instead, I’d suggest that it gets under the skin of the vanities in “the search for meaning.” I don’t think that Beckett “gets clearer” year by year at all.

  10. Pete,

    An embargo of this type is standard when performing rights are sold and I think Hall does himself no favours in suggesting otherwise. He may feel particularly attached to the work but not enough to buy the rights ahead of the National.


    I think the search for meaning in the sense of allegory is a very obvious bear trap when looking at Beckett’s drama. I like to think that the resemblence of Godot to a religious parody was not entirely unintentional however and would have appealed to his sense of humour.

    Like all good comedians of course, he knew better than to attempt to explain a joke.

  11. Pete

    I wasn’t dismissing his concerns about the staging, just his take on how Beckett seems to be “getting clearer” with each past year.

    Rightly or wrongly, I do think he feels very close to the plays, which is perfectly understandable.

  12. Yoda

    I wasn’t quick enough with the requested edit to critical. My apologies.

    But I read that as him saying he, in particular, sees Godot clearer by the year.. and as he implies by the following paragraph, by the production –


    Yes, it’s a point that I’m aware of and it’s made in the Independent report.. but there wasn’t an option for Hall to produce the 50th anniversary run in another year.. I would have thought that an extended run could have benefited the beginning of the Centenary Festival.. I just get the impression that its not just Peter Hall’s nose which is feeling as if its been put out of joint here.

  13. At the risk of pedantry, it is, of course, merely the 50th anniversary of the first English language production.

  14. Pete,

    Yep, I can see how you’d read that there. Whe I read it, the difference between his four productions and the “year by year” remark didn’t add up.

    I should add that I’ve tremendous respect for Hall.

  15. Pete,

    Yep, I can see how you’d read that there. Whe I read it, the difference between his four productions and the “year by year” remark didn’t add up.

    I should add that I’ve tremendous respect for Hall.

  16. God, it’s so not about scraping away all the stories we construct, unless you mean just by their unexpected absence when this load of devil crap is staged in actual life for a few hours during the time of the performance in the theatre itself. It only pretends to be about the scraping away of constructs etc. Busy people with little sleep and many plans or a lot of potential and/or wonder and a penchant to reserve judgements etc. only think it actually is this. It is their poor misfortune. It is a trap.

    The other alternative is it is just what you make of it and this should only be less than zero, I can’t see anthing else. It is only bull****. Stop being either pretensious, mystified, hypnotised, confused, frightened or dumbstruck or a mixture of these, general public, and to teachers stop harming young persons’ minds by steeping them in this, at very best of a perhaps endlessly terrible composition, empty crap. It is what it is – this an element of great art – but any even true and mediocre artist or human must laugh at this as Becket has scrawled (bull**** is bull****, terrible is terrible, the only possible depth lies in seeing how deep this goes, Oh My God), and the high point and most acceptable or perhaps humanly visible part of this is thus just a gruesome joke but it gets much worse.

    Teachers, is the impetus to hand over this piece the discovery of the birth of the cool a few minutes before the (actually empty categorical suggestion only) bizzarre and examination or suggestion in more popular forms of art of the existence of ‘the other side’? I believe ‘the other side’ is supposed to be the true description of what has been termed hell, and possibly somewhere along the line a joke also, though the latter could not be. James Dean does not really laugh in the remotely comarably stupid and empty ‘Rebel without a cause’ though perhaps it is this logic of alterity which saves the film from the utter realms of, speaking humanly, soberly, sensibly and positively, worthlessness where Waiting for Godot resides. It seems to me this is the element of popularity which is often stated that this play has amongst young people – merely a mistake – a real life trance and then also a terrible hidden hypnotic apparent panacea for the errs of real life in real life where the reader or viewer is not aware (or a magnet into realms of actual confusion if not dismissed). Beckett is the Rebel zithout a cause of the film, and those involved in the film realise they are being very, very nice in their description!? Mind control only (‘Godot’) in contextual existence, where this is not part of the appreciation of the thing itself. This is not theatre nor is it art.

    This is very, very serious and exceedingly underpresented comment being made. To me it is like the search for proper evaluation of the incredibly obviously pile of dog**** which is the common modern day talk and zritings about the ‘philosophy of utilitarianism’ (also related here within a set-type defintion as this description is more than generous, more appropriate would be, I am not afraid to normally relate, something like lucifer vomit, and again an obvious thing to any one). And yet it is still considered and very often favourably.

    In the magazines, journals and programmes, talk of ‘Godot’ in recent years might be made with a brief comment of one critic or a few persons’ negative comments, but nearly every time I hear or read of it, it is being presented as something actually very, very worthy, with suggestive writing usually which cannot be made with even great effort to seem anyway negative or even balanced, it often becomes clear. Like the recent comment on ‘Utilitarianism’ it is the fantastic and somehow magical description of something else, made by those who have not human lives, but whom come from the plane of Platonic isolated Persuasion, though where there is, it is to be discerned on closer examination, nothing to be persuaded of, also in talk of a subject which bears no capability of harnessing true persausion. The mark of the devil is this form. Devil worship is the worship and prescription of the sick inexorably.

    Less than zero can only be ‘I owe you’. The audience is expected to owe the theatre in a hypothetical contract for the next production. It is queer and abominable. This is the sum of the work, ‘I owe you’. No ****, Mr. Beckett. Anyway it is not eternal. Any one year old can do bad philosophy without being fully serious, with sudden, humourous seeming, endless and sore deep ravine drops.

    There is art which is pertaining to the suggestion and consideration of the stripping away of human constructs etc. This Beckett story fails as art.

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