Play (play)

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Play is a one-act play by Samuel Beckett. It was written between 1962 and 1963 and first produced in German as Spiel on 14 June 1963 at the Ulmer Theatre in Ulm-Donau, Germany, directed by Deryk Mendel, with Nancy Illig (W1), Sigfrid Pfeiffer (W2) and Gerhard Winter (M). The first performance in English was on 7 April 1964 at the Old Vic in London.



The curtain rises on three identical grey funeral “urns”,[1] about three feet tall by preference,[2] arranged in a row facing the audience. They contain three stock characters. In the middle urn is a man (M). To his right is his wife (W1) or long-time partner. The third urn holds his mistress (W2). Their “[f]aces [are] so lost to age and aspect as to seem almost part of the urns.”[3] Beckett has used similar imagery before, Mahood’s jar in The Unnameable, for example, or the dustbins occupied by Nell and Nagg in Endgame.

At the beginning and end of the play, a spotlight picks out all three faces, and all three characters recite their own lines, in what Beckett terms a "chorus";[2] the effect is unintelligible. In the main though the play is made up of short, occasionally fragmented sentences spoken in a “[r]apid tempo throughout”[3] “which in his 1978 rehearsals [he] likened to a lawn mower – a burst of energy followed by a pause, a renewed burst followed by another pause.”[4] “He wrote each part separately, then interspersed them, working over the proper breaks in the speeches for a long time before he was satisfied.”[5]

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