Waiting for Godot

preface by Edward Beckett
illustrations by Tom Phillips

Folio Society

Notes on this work

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Waiting for Godot, Pen & Ink, 2000

Waiting for Godot, Pen & Ink, 2000

Waiting for Godot, Pen & Ink, 2000

Waiting for Godot, Pen & Ink, 2000

Waiting for Godot sketchbook page, Pen & Ink, 2000

Samuel Beckett has a hold over my history as well as my imagination. I am of a generation for which his work provided new (if slightly awkward and bare) mental furniture. I was eighteen when I saw Peter Hall's first British production of Waiting For Godot. It has been with me ever since, though I was not to know in 1955 that, almost thirty years later, I would be asked by David Godard of the Riverside Studios if I would like to meet this once so obscure dramatist and draw him as he rehearsed the San Quentin players in that same work. The idea was (since the production was being prepared not for England but America) that I should make some drawings of Beckett and produce a poster that would celebrate his covert presence in Hammersmith. Nor was I then to know that, almost twenty years after that, I would be asked to confront Godot again and make from its almost total absence of visual clues the illustrations for the Folio Society edition.

The lithograph that came out of the Riverside drawing provides the frontispiece of this volume. The illustrations that follow spring from two conversations, one with Samuel Beckett, the other with the Folio Society's director.

Since the playwright, at the breaks in those rehearsals, was often in danger of being inundated by enquiries about his work from the academic circus that dogged his trail (the Beckett industry is a large and ever growing machine) I resolved to bring up in conversation with him only trivial matters, like smoking and cricket. Once however we talked about the Old Music Hall whose dying giants I saw perform at the Empress, Brixton, also in the fifties. I mentioned that Waiting For Godot reminded me of the many double acts (two toffs, two tramps, comics with straightmen and stooges etc.) and their routines and sketches. 'All those bowler hats, you mean? ...yes, mmm, yes,.. something in that' said Beckett. I then went boldly on to say that the play felt like watching one such double act being invaded by another. 'Mmm, yes,' said Beckett, '...something in that'.

Hence the bowler hats (here borrowed from stills, appropriately, of Laurel and Hardy, the cinematic precursors of Pozzo and Lucky) do have some small qualified authorisation and endorsement from the writer himself. They appear in the stage directions and at one point, unusually for a play with only five characters, one of whom is a hatless boy, there are five hats on stage.

The other motif came out of a preliminary discussion with the Folio Society's Director in which we talked about the tree which Beckett specifically describes as having 'four or five leaves'. I enjoyed speculating as to what the leaf was like that may or may not have been there. I assume that somewhere in a learned paper there exists a thesis on this Berkleian leaf which might also discuss the parallel number of leaves and hats. Fortunately I have neither seen nor read it since I am happy to think in Beckett's words, 'Something in that... yes, mmm, yes'.

This is very little by way of visual ammunition to be armed with, but it is enough to go on. And so, like Lucky, I rest my case.

Preface, Waiting for Godot, Tom Philllips, 2000