An Introduction to Samuel Beckett
Seeing a Samuel Beckett play is a rite of passage for any theatre lover. If you’re yet to experience Beckett for yourself, take a look at our introductory guide – and impress people with your new-found knowledge.
‘Why this farce, day after day?‘
Born in 1906 in Dublin, Beckett later settled in Paris in 1937. His time in France was nothing if not eventful. It started with him being stabbed by a pimp in Paris, and he was recovering in hospital when he met Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil, a piano student whom he would eventually marry. During the Second World War he became part of an underground resistance group and had to go into hiding for two years. He worked as an agricultural labourer until the country was liberated from German occupation, and was later awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery.
Back in Paris and heavily influenced by the war, Beckett began his most prolific period as a writer. Over five years he wrote the plays Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Malloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism. In 1969, Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
‘Our revels now are ended‘
After the Second World War, the realities of what really happened during it became widely known. There was anxiety and uncertainty and people across Europe were beginning to question their beliefs – what was the true meaning of their existence and was any of it worthwhile?
A type of theatre began to emerge that would represent this question on the stage and would become known as Theatre of the Absurd. Characters often appear stuck in routines, trapped in enclosed spaces and the plays are without traditional plot structure – all recognisable features of Endgame. Other playwrights associated with this kind of theatre are Harold Pinter (The Birthday Party), Edward Albee (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead).
‘Radcliffe and Alan Cumming also have the exquisite timing and rhythm of a seasoned double act‘ Evening Standard on Endgame and Rough for Theatre II
So, we’ve covered the anxiety, existentialism and characters trapped in mundane routines… we know what you’re thinking – what makes a Beckett play a good night out?
It’s possibly the humour in Beckett’s work that makes it so unique – the sharp, witty dialogue takes you by surprise, and it’s also what makes it so human; the darkness of life contrasted with the absurd hilarity of it. American writer Paul Auster talks about the importance of humour in absurd works like his and Beckett’s –’That’s the way we’re built as human beings, and often when we’re in dark circumstances we survive them by cracking jokes’.
Want to experience Beckett for yourself? Endgame is now playing in a double bill with Rough for Theatre II until Sat 28 Mar.