Artsnight (2015– )

Richard Wilson on Samuel Beckett 

Richard Wilson looks at Samuel Beckett's enduring fascination in contemporary theatrical cultures.


Lesley Smith


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Episode cast overview:
Richard Wilson ... Presenter
Lisa Dwan Lisa Dwan ... Contributor
Ian McKellen ... Contributor
Hugo Weaving ... Contributor
Robert Wilson Robert Wilson ... Contributor
Juliet Stevenson ... Contributor
James Knowlson James Knowlson ... Contributor


Richard Wilson looks at Samuel Beckett's enduring fascination in contemporary theatrical cultures.

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Official Sites:

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Release Date:

31 July 2015 (UK) See more »


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User Reviews

Succinct, if Slightly Precious Introduction to a Great Playwright's Work
4 January 2016 | by l_rawjalaurenceSee all my reviews

Based on public knowledge of his television career, Richard Wilson might seem the last person to be given the job of introducing a Beckett program. The boorish Victor Meldrew in ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE (1990-2001) - a character who wouldn't recognize art if it slapped him in the face.

In truth Wilson has enjoyed a long theatrical career as an actor and director of plays new and old. He played Krapp in KRAPP'S LAST TAPE at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield - the culmination of a lifelong interest in Beckett's work.

The problem with Beckett is that critics have been obsessed with pigeon-holing him. Wilson traced the origins and growth of his reputation in Britain and Europe; during the Fifties and Sixties Beckett was always cast as an "Absurdist" writer whose work was quite literally about nothing. Few recognized his debt to popular cultures, especially music-hall. Ian McKellen, who played in a long-running revival of GODOT in London and New York with Patrick Stewart, brought out this aspect of Beckett's work; in a filmed extract from the revival, we understood how funny he could be.

On the other hand, there were others who described Beckett in rather precious terms as someone preoccupied with "the human condition," leading us to speculate on "which humans," and "what condition"? Sometimes it's best to listen to the author: GODOT is about two people waiting for something, not about existentialism or any other late twentieth century philosophy.

We have to admire the strength with which some actors cope with the physical demands required by Beckett's work. Lisa Dwan has had to cope with the onerous experience of NOT I, in which only her mouth is visible to spectators. This places particular demands on her vocal abilities. The fact she has performed the one-person role so successfully emphasizes her proficiency as an actor.

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