Samuel Beckett's Catastrophe

On the Irish playwright's late political work
John Gielgud and Rebecca Pidgeon in a 2001 TV production of Beckett's Catastrophe Photograph: Channel 4 Television/PR
Jo Glanville writes on Samuel Beckett's late play, Catastrophe, and its poignant political significance:
In 1982, Samuel Beckett dedicated a new play, Catastrophe, to Václav Havel, then a political prisoner in Czechoslovakia, serving a four and a half year sentence for "subversive activities". He had been asked to write the play by the International Association for the Defence of Artists, who were organising a night of solidarity for the Czech playwright at the Avignon festival that summer. Although Beckett had never met Havel, he was concerned by the persecution of artists in eastern Europe and was horrified to hear that Havel had been forbidden to write in prison.

"The fact that Samuel Beckett made himself heard in this way pleased me immensely," recalls Havel. "He was a father of modern theatre, who dwelt somewhere up in the heavens, isolated from the hubbub down below." When Havel was released the following year, he returned the honour by dedicating a play, Mistake, to Beckett. It's a little-known footnote to both writers' careers. The plays were performed together in Stockholm in 1983 and first published in 1984 by the magazine Index on Censorship. Tomorrow, to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism in eastern Europe, IoC is presenting a rare performance of the two works, at the Free Word festival in London. [Read More]