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Characteristics of Modern English Drama

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Characteristics of Modern English Drama

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  • Feb. 2013
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Why are we still waiting for Godot?
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent
Godot's 60th: The University of Reading archive shows the first night Pic: Roger Pic So why are we still waiting for Godot? How has Samuel Beckett's play grown from a tiny avant garde performance in Paris to become part of the West End theatre coach party circuit? It's 60 years since Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot received its premiere in the Theatre de Babylone in Paris. The first public performance, in its original French form of En attendant Godot, drew an audience of high-brow Parisians, taking in the latest experimental theatre. "All the thousands who claimed they were there could never have been at the premiere. There weren't enough seats," says James Knowlson, Beckett's friend and official biographer. They also couldn't have realised that this play, beginning its shoestring-budget run on 5 January 1953, was going to be seen as one of the pivotal moments in modern drama. International appeal

So why has Waiting for Godot proved so durable? How has Beckett's work outlasted the other iconoclasts and angry young writers of the 1950s and 1960s? "I would suggest the answer lies in its ambiguities. So much is suggested rather than explicitly stated," says Prof Knowlson. A programme from Godot's first setting at the Theatre de Babylone in Montparnasse, Paris "People can read into it what they want to read into it."

This openness to interpretation has helped the play to avoid becoming dated, he says. For a play that's about the passing of time, it's curiously timeless. It asks all the big philosophical questions - about life and death and the uncertain purpose of what goes on in between - but in a way that isn't limited to a particular place or era. And the play has acquired a remarkable record for being performed in very different international settings. No disaster or civil strife is complete without its own Godot. It was performed in Sarajevo under siege in the...

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