17 October 2020

Samuel Beckett: Breath (1972; repr. with Preface by S. E. Gontarski, 2009)

Beckett's Breath, lasting about forty seconds and with no plot, no words and no characters, is theatrical minimalism virtually at its most minimalist, and was written as a contribution to Kenneth Tynan's Oh! Calcutta!* 'circus' (as Beckett described it). It consists of a pile of unidentified rubbish with a faint brief cry, then an intake of breath with light slowly increasing. This is followed by expiration and slowly decreasing light, ending in another brief cry. It was first performed in 1969 and first published in 1972.

As James Knowlson says, Beckett's intention was that this was an ironic comment on what followed, although someone had added 'with naked people' in the rubbish, and Beckett was very far from happy. The sequence was withdrawn from the London production of Oh! Calcutta!.

Breath is generally seen as a blurring of the difference between theatre and other art forms.

*This is a pun on Clovis Trouille's 'Oh quel cul t'as' ('Oh, what an arse you've got').

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