“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.