Several modern dramas have had a strong social impact shortly after production and/or publication. Discuss the reasons for this in TWO cases. In this essay I am going to study what social impact both Look Back in Anger by John Osborne and Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett had shortly after their production and publication. I will consider what theatrical conventions are or are not in each play, which could explain why people were drawn to the plays; as well as considering why the plays may be seen as controversial by some.
Look Back in Anger and Waiting for Godot are unarguably placed at the beginning of a revolution in the British theatre. Both plays introduced new ideas and concepts into the world of drama. However they were both influenced by playwright Bertolt Brecht. Brecht’s plays used a bare stage, placards to indicate location and non-atmospheric lighting. In Brecht’s plays he is keen for his audience to think about what is happening and question things, which are happening rather than switching off. John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger represented not a revolution in form but instead a revolution in content.
The Brechtian influence encouraged Osborne and Beckett to experiment with style. Waiting for Godot is termed a play in the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. Martin Esslin made up the term ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ for a number of playwrights. Beckett’s absurd play like other absurd plays has the view that man inhabits a universe with which he is out of key with. The plays meaning is indecipherable and man’s place within it is without purpose. The absurd play is undoubtedly strongly influenced by the traumatic experiences of the Second World War.
As a result, absurd plays assume a highly unusual, innovative form, directly aiming to startle the audience, shaking them out of their comfortable, conventional life of everyday concerns. The ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ openly rebelled against conventional theatre. It was surreal, illogical, conflict less and plot less. These are all conventions used in Waiting for Godot; the audience were certainly shocked by its sense of nothingness. Beckett did have problems finding someone to produce his play, the first half-dozen producers, which he approached, turned his play down for various reasons.
The whole play only consists of two acts, which are set on two consecutive days; the second act repeats the activities of the first day but in a different order. The play opens on a barren scene: a country road, a tree and a near sunset. Estragon is sitting on a low mound repeatedly trying to remove his boot. He is left exhausted and when Vladimir enters Estragon proclaims that there is ‘Nothing to be done’, although he continues to struggle with his boot. The two men appear to be waiting for something to happen, as is the audience; the men are ‘waiting for Godot’. (Beckett, 1954, P2)
The identity of Godot is deliberately never revealed much to the annoyance of the audience. The opening act features a single tree as a parody of stage set. In the second act the previously bare tree has sprouted a few leaves, which reiterates the idea the Waiting for Godot is a play in which nothing happens. Vladimir and Estragon consider leaving and doing other things to pass the time but they are always drawn back to the same situation. This is a recurring theme in Beckett’s work-the idea that life is something you live and there is no alternative to your existence.
The two main characters discuss death and suicide and the play ends with the two men considering hanging themselves, but they have no rope. However the play closes with a feeling of suspense. The lack of a beginning, middle and end to the play set it apart from almost every other play that had been produced on the British stage. The play did however bore some people acutely; others found it witty and thought provoking. However due to the lack of traditional dramatic conventions the producers argued that Waiting for Godot ‘had no plot to speak of.
Without a storyline or characters with whom to identify, the play was unlikely to interest enough people to make money. ‘ (Graver, 1996, P9) Two years went by before sufficient money was raised to fund the play. Most of the funding came from a government grant. On 5th January 1953 the play opened in Paris. However critics responded in two ways to Beckett’s play and his use of the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. Some dismissed the play as trivial nonsense others saw it as a ‘profoundly challenging dramatic development that required critics and dramatists alike to rethink conventions that had sustained the theatre.
‘(Boxall, 2000, P6) In the spring of 1955 the play came to London. However the play had been delayed due to actors and one producer losing interest. The production also ran into trouble from the Lord Chamberlain, the official censor of plays. He objected to some of Beckett’s language. The London production finally opened at a Private Arts Theatre Club on 3rd August 1955. Hobson wrote a review of the play for the Sunday Times on 7th August 1955.
The article provided Hobson with the opportunity to convince the English public that ‘at last there was an absurdist play that merited close attention’ Hobson said that the play was neither boring nor baffling, he described it as simply ‘a remarkable play. ‘ Critic Kenneth Tynan also agreed with Hobson’s review of the play. Tynan opened his review of the play with ‘ a special virtue attaches to plays which remind the drama of how much it can do without and still exist. ‘ (Shellard, 2000, P44-45) In contrast playwright Jean Anouilh said that ”Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.
‘ This line is spoken by one of the characters in the play, and it provides one of the best summaries for the play. The critical uproar that Waiting For Godot created ensured that the play was able to transfer to the Criterion theatre in London on 12th September 1955. When Waiting for Godot opened in London it had almost an immediate impact; it was a monumental flop as far as the reviews were concerned, but Hobson played a large part in ensuring that the play would come to be regarded as a significant influence on twentieth century British drama. (Graver, 1996, P12)