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Samuel Beckett

Past display archive

Samuel Beckett
by Jane Bown
NPG P373

18 June 2005 - 8 January 2006

Room 31 showcase


This display celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the British premiere of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, which was performed at the Arts Theatre Club, London in August 1955. The initial audience reaction to the play's stark view of human existence, and its deeply unconventional dramatic structure, was hostile. Nevertheless, such respected critics as Kenneth Tynan and Harold Hobson were appreciative, and within a short period the play became hugely successful. It is now recognised as a landmark in post-war theatre, transforming conventional ideas about plot, characterisation and language.

Samuel Beckett
by Henri Cartier-Bresson
NPG P721

After Waiting for Godot, Beckett's principal works include the plays All That Fall (for radio, 1956), Endgame (1957), Krapp's Last Tape (1958), Happy Days (1961) N ot I (1973), and Ohio Impromptu (1981); and the prose works Imagination Dead Imagine (1965), The Lost Ones (1971), Worstward Ho (1983), and Stirrings Still (1988). In 1969, Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature: 'For his writing which - in new forms for the novel and drama - in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation.' He died in 1989.

The display comprises a selection of portraits of Beckett from the National Portrait Gallery collection, including a remarkable series of photographs by his fellow Irishman, John Minihan. These portraits are complemented by performance photographs of two of Beckett's most celebrated plays: Endgame and Krapp's Last Tape.

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