STR Lecture – Beckett Goes Nude: Breath, Oh! Calcutta! & the Sexual Revolution

Thursday 16 April 2015 at 7.30pm, Swedenborg Hall, Holborn, London | map

Presented by Dr Graham Saunders
Most theatre audiences first introduction to Samuel Beckett’s drama in the early 1970s come not from major works such as Waiting for Godot or Endgame, but a ‘dramaticule’ lasting less than forty seconds. The piece, entitled Breath reached mass audiences worldwide due it opening an erotic revue, Oh! Calcutta! devised by the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan. The show was heralded as landmark cultural event in espousing the spirit of sexual liberation that came to define the late 1960s. It opened in New York, but its original conception and many of its themes and preoccupations were definably British and its impetus came out of the struggles against the system of theatre censorship that existed in the UK until 1968.

Drawing extensively on archival sources including the Kenneth Tynan and Harold Pinter collections at the British Library as well as the Beckett archive at the University of Reading, this lecture will look in detail at Beckett’s somewhat unwilling secondment into the mores of the late 1960’s sexual revolution through his involvement in Oh! Calcutta!. Beckett’s own seeming estrangement from the utopian ideals of the times will also be framed through many of the contradictions thrown up by Tynan’s erotic revue.

Graham Saunders is Reader in Theatre Studies at the University of Reading. He is author of Love me or Kill me: Sarah Kane and the Theatre of Extremes (Manchester: MUP, 2002), About Kane: the Playwright and the Work (London: Faber 2009), Patrick Marber’s Closer (Continuum, 2008) and co-editor of Cool Britannia: Political Theatre in the 1990s (Palgrave, 2008) and Sarah Kane in Context (MUP, 2010). He was Principal Investigator for the five year AHRC funded ‘Giving a Voice to the Nation’: the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Development of Theatre & Performance in Britain 1945-1994’ and is currently co-investigator on the three year AHRC funded project Staging Beckett: The Impact of Productions of Samuel Beckett’s Drama on Theatre Practice and Cultures in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

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