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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Beckett's TV treatment
Nothing happens, nobody turns up and you would be foolish to expect a big ending - Waiting for Godot is perfect Saturday night television.

To be fair, while we have become used to lightweight Saturday dramas like Jonathan Creek and the ever quieter Casualty, Godot (Channel 4, 30 June, 1900 BST)is at least intended to be all these things.

It is the most famous work of playwright Samuel Beckett and is also arguably the centrepiece of a new TV season of his work.

And he would hate it.

But not because it's made poorly, rather that he had extremely fixed ideas about how his work should be treated and that' i one of the reasons why he's famous on stage but much less so on screen.

He did write for television, it's not that he was some kind of stage snob, but once it was written he felt it should never be moved to another medium.


So when the BBC televised Waiting for Godot in the 1960s, Beckett reportedly watched it in despair with his head in his hands.

Beckett's lack of TV exposure is also helped by how impenetrable his work can be.

William Gallagher
He certainly turned down offers from film companies for him to rework Godot as a movie and generally he is famous for being the best yet least-seen playwright on television.

Mind you, Beckett's lack of TV exposure is also helped by how impenetrable his work can be.

So it is worthy of applause that anyone has the nerve, the money and the TV station to mount this season - a production of no less than 19 of Beckett's best work.

You have to feel sorry for television executives - Godot is famous for having nothing happen and one play, Breath (Channel 4, Sunday 1 July, 1955 BST) is a whole 45 seconds long.

Try getting a commercial break into that one.

The season is being made jointly by the UK's Channel 4 and Ireland's RTE television stations by theatre director Michael Colgan and filmmaker Alan Moloney.

But they are not the names you will be tuning in for.

What marks this season out as unmissable is both the rarity of seeing Beckett on TV but also the great cast.

Play (Channel 4, Friday 29 June, 1945 BST), for example, is a 15-minute production - quite the mini series next to Breath - that stars Alan Rickman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Juliet Stevenson.

While the season opened with Catastrophe, very easily missable in its tucked away slot between Channel 4 News and the soap Brookside (Thursday, 28 June, 1955 BST) and starring Harold Pinter and John Gielgud.


They have each got the very best possible cast, each of whom would make a case that Beckett is the very best possible writer, so it is not a surprise that you will have heard of the directors too.

David Mamet has directed Catastrophe while The English Patient and Talented Mr Ripley's Anthony Minghella has made Play.

He is also the one that has most ignored Beckett's rigid mandates about how to stage and film the work.

Which is the spark that this season needs because while this is a landmark season, it is not a record of Beckett's work so much as it is a drama series.

And if the big one, Waiting for Godot, still comes across as stage-bound, the other blink-and-you-miss-them productions are a little treat.

See also:

02 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Beckett films start festival
02 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Centre stage for Beckett
01 Jun 98 | Entertainment
Eat my shorts, Godot!
22 Jun 01 | TV and Radio
Bunny stolen from gentleman thief
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