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Waiting for Godot

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Theater managers did not exactly fight for the privilege of producing Waiting For Godot and there were repeated delays in getting it onto the boards. “The play held up for want of funds,” Beckett wrote Susan Manning on 4 October 1951. “More interested in carrots than in literature at the moment.”

Tristan Tzara had talked about Godot to Roger Blin, an actor-director well-known in the Paris avant-garde theater. Blin read the play. He caught a glimpse of something that appealed to him. He didn’t, as he admitted later on, see it all, by any means. Long afterward he met Beckett and—like Jean Thomas and others—found him somewhat “intimidating.” They talked about Godot, in particular about the technical problems it raised, very little about its “meaning.” It was only when they began to rehearse, at the Théâtre de Babylone, that what Blin has called the play’s “richness” began to emerge for him and his fellow actors.

Beckett followed the rehearsals very closely. No one got very involved with the metaphysical aspects of the play. But under its mask of bleakness Blin became aware that they were nourishing a tiny, insistent spark: the will to live, the love of life, and it became for all of them a joyous, triumphal experience.

 

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When Godot opened at the Théâtre de Babylone in Paris on 5 January 1953, it was immediately and simultaneously a succès de scandale and a pièce à succès. By mid-April 1953, Beckett was able to give Susan Manning a rosier rundown of the play’s prospects that included performances in Lyons and Brussells, the 100th Paris performance, a German tour, and “talk of New York.” Beckett had made a good deal of money with it already (more, in a couple of months, than with all my other writings put together.”

 

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The first British production of Waiting for Godot was a private one, at the Arts Theatre Club in London, under the direction of Peter Hall. In order for the play to be performed publicly, however, Beckett’s text had to withstand a close reading by the Lord Chamberlain, the official censor—“His Nibs,” as Beckett later referred to him.

Needless to say Beckett’s characters and the Lord Chamberlain spoke different languages and before Godot could open at the Criterion Theatre, the censor exacted his toll. Entire passages were cut, such as the one which connects hanging and erections, and another which refers to an unbuttoned fly. In other instances, “objectionable” words were replaced by less “offensive” terminology—the mother of the Pozzo family, for example, had “warts” rather than “the clap.”

It wasn’t until December 1964—after the office of the Lord Chamberlain had finally gone out of business—that the unexpurgated version of Godot was performed, with official British sanction, at the Royal Court Theatre in London, under Beckett’s supervision.

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