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Picture of Samuel Beckett, author of Endgame and Waiting for Godot; twentieth century Irish Literature and drama

April 3, 1957
Samuel Beckett   (1906 - 1989)
Endgame in London
by Steve King

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On this day in 1957, Samuel Beckett's Endgame was first performed in London, in French. Waiting for Godot had premiered in 1953 and become an international sensation, but Beckett could find no one in France willing to risk their theater on a new play which featured one character who could not stand, one who could not sit, and two others unable to come out of their garbage cans. He had written the play in French and wanted a French premiere, but when the Royal Court Theatre offered their space, Beckett agreed to travel.

That he came to regret it had more to do with Beckett than the poor reviews. Having been horrified at much of what producers, directors and actors had done to Godot -- "It's ahl wrahng! He's doing it ahl wrahng!" he'd whispered throughout the London premiere -- Beckett had written precise stage and acting directions into Endgame.

HAMM What's happening?
CLOV Something is taking its course. (Pause)
HAMM Clov!
CLOV (Impatiently) What is it?
HAMM We're not beginning to . . . to . . . mean something?
CLOV Mean something! You and I, mean something! (Brief laugh)
Ah, that's a good one!
HAMM I wonder.
Imagine if a rational being came back to earth, wouldn't he be liable to get ideas into his head if he observed us long enough.
(Voice of rational being)
Ah, good, now I see what it is, yes, now I understand what they're at!
(Clov starts, drops the telescope and begins to scratch his belly with both hands)
(Normal voice)
And without going so far as that, we ourselves . . .
(with emotion)
. . . we ourselves . . . at certain moments . . .
To think perhaps it won't all have been for nothing!
CLOV (anguished, scratching himself) I have a flea! . . .

Beckett was never hopeful about communication -- ''there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express" – but he found collaboration with his English producer and French director to be agony. Nor was day-to-day living one of Beckett's strengths: he hid from reporters at the theater and from acquaintances in his London hotel and flew home before the opening. He returned eighteen months later for the English-language premiere, this time in a double-bill with Krapp's Last Tape. The personal agony continued, say the biographers, and judging by Kenneth Tynan's parody-review entitled "Slamm's Last Knock," the critical misunderstanding was worse:
    Foreground figure a blind and lordly cripple with superficial mannerisms...Sawn-off parents in bins, stage right, and shuffling servant all over the stage...

    Slamm Is that all the review he's getting?
    Seck That's all the play he's written.
    Slamm But a genius. Could you do as much?
    Seck Not as much. But as little.

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Related authors:  Alfred Jarry, J. M. Synge, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, William Butler Yeats
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