Samuel Beckett’s Plays on BBC Television

An illustrated online essay by Jonathan Bignell
Jack McGowran in a BBC production of Samuel Beckett's Eh Joe
Jack McGowran in a BBC production of Samuel Beckett's Eh Joe
Jack McGowran in a BBC production of Samuel Beckett's Eh Joe
An extract from Jonathan Bignell's 'Experiments in TV Drama: Samuel Beckett’s Plays on BBC TV', hosted on Spaces of Television:
Samuel Beckett is probably best known as a theatre dramatist, but there is a long history of BBC TV presenting dramas that he wrote for specifically for the medium, and also television adaptations of his theatre work (Bignell 2009). In its 2012 season of screenings titled ‘Beyond the Fourth Wall: Experiments in TV Drama’, the British Film Institute screened a selection that comprised Beckett’s original television play Eh Joe (BBC 1966), and an episode of the arts series The Lively Arts (BBC 1977) that includes three of his dramas. These are visually distinctive plays, worthy of the term ‘experimental’, and the story of how they were made and received reveals fascinating relationships between Beckett, the BBC and different groups of viewers.

The commissioning and screening of Beckett’s plays by BBC demonstrates a linkage between British television and an experimental Modernist aesthetic that Beckett’s name already represented in the later decades of the twentieth century. The formal experimentation, theatrical background and complexity of Beckett’s TV plays supported the Public Service claims of the BBC to present the best of contemporary arts practice despite, but also because of, the distance between some of that practice and the mainstream forms of television drama. The Modernist experimentation in Beckett’s plays on television can be seen in their pared-down verbal and spatial textures, and their concentration on geometrical forms and static or very slow physical action. [Read More]
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