Play by Jean Anouilh. "I was dazzled, I had expected to find a saint - and I found a man" - Jean Anouilh's timeless and enthralling play, written in 1959, beautifully captures the conflict between friendship and duty. As a young man, Thomas à Becket was anything but a saint and, as King Henry II's closest friend, he enjoyed the lifestyle only royalty could afford, the two men spending their time carefree and pleasure seeking. The terrible schism, which tears them apart, is an act of friendship and love - Henry makes Becket Archbishop of Canterbury. Finally with a purpose to his life, Becket follows his new vocation with such zeal that their two worlds can only collide.
Peter Hall's original 1961 West End production is the longest running staging, playing for a total of 249 performances. Peter Glenville's 1964 movie version, with an Oscar-winning screenplay by Edward Anhalt adapted from the original Lucienne Hill translation, starred Richard Burton as 'Becket', Peter O'Toole as 'Henry II', and John Gielgud as 'King Louis of France', who where all Oscar-nominated for their roles.
Although ostensibly a 'history play' based on the real characters and events surrounding Thomas Becket and King Henry of England, Jean Anouilh based his play on a reading of Augustin Thierry's 1825 History of the Norman Conquest of England, which has been proved to be historically unreliable.
When Becket was first presented on stage in London Jean Anouilh said that he read the book, having originally bought it "solely for its handsome green binding. I was so delighted and moved by it that I looked no further. In the relationship between these two men, these close friends divided by one great absurdity - absurd at least to the more deeply loving - I already had my play. I hope the English will forgive me, not only for a few satirical digs which I couldn't resist, but also for never bothering to find out what Henry II, or even Becket, was really like. I created the King I wanted, and the ambiguous Becket I needed. I have since been told that poor old Augustin Thierry, and the contemporary chroniclers whose clumsy Latin he so faithfully quotes, have been utterly superseded by modern, scientific history; for even history progresses, and the world of scholarship moves radiantly and rationally towards the Truth. Apparently Thomas Becket was not even of Saxon origin - one of the mainsprings of my play - he was a Norman. Was he in fact the son of the beautiful Saracen girl who saved his captive father from a Pasha during the Second Crusade? Is my song on the subject inaccurate, then? An inaccurate song! God forbid! Everything, in fact, for a serious man, has collapsed. But I suppose I am not very serious; after all, I work in the theatre..."
1961: Premiere West End London with Eric Porter and Christopher Plummer
Opened 11 July 1961 (no previews), Closed 6 December 1961 (in repertory) at the Aldwych Theatre
Transferred 13 December 1961, Closed 5 May 1962 at the Globe Theatre (now Gielgud Theatre)
Translated by Lucien Hill.
The cast at the Aldwych Theatre and the Globe Theatre featured Eric Porter as 'Thomas Becket', Christopher Plummer as 'King Henry of England', Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as 'Queen Mother', Patrick Wymark as 'King Louis of France' (up to Saturday 14 October 1961), Esmond Knight as 'King Louis of France' (from Monday 16 October 1961), Diana Rigg as 'Gwendolen', Ian Holm as 'Little Monk' (up to Saturday 14 October 1961), Barry MacGregor as 'Little Monk' (from Monday 16 October 1961), Roy Dotrice as 'Fourth Baron'/'The Pope' (up to Saturday 14 October 1961), John Warner as 'Fourth Baron'/'The Pope' (from Monday 16 October 1961), Alan Downer as 'A Sentry'/'Saxon Father', Alan Downer as 'Second Monk' (up to Saturday 14 October 1961), Edward Argent as 'Second Monk' (from Monday 16 October 1961), Barry MacGregor as 'Etienne, a monk' (up to Saturday 14 October 1961), James Keen as 'Etienne, a monk' (from Monday 16 October 1961), Barry MacGregor as 'Saxon Son' (up to Saturday 16 October 1961), Geoffrey Stavert as 'Saxon Son' (from Monday 16 October to Wednesday 6 December 1961), Bernard Gibbons as 'Saxon Son' (Globe), Barry MacGregor as 'Young Sentry' (up to Saturday 14 October 1961), Ian Cullen as 'Young Sentry' (from Monday 16 October 1961), Clive Swift as 'Second Baron' (up to Saturday 14 October 1961), Trevor Martin as 'Second Baron' (from Monday 16 October 1961), Dane Howell as 'Prince', Donald Layne-Smith as 'Archbishop of Canterbury', Edward Argent as 'First Monk' (up to Saturday 14 October 1961), Alan Downer as 'First Monk' (from Monday 16 October 1961), Edward Argent as 'Third Baron', Geoffrey Stavert as 'An Officer'/'First Soldier' (up to Saturday 14 October 1961), Bernard Gibbons as 'An Officer'/'First Soldier' (from Monday 16 October 1961), George Murcell as 'A Cardinal' (up to Saturday 16 October 1961), Clive Swift as 'A Cardinal' (from Monday 16 October to Wednesday 6 December 1961), Trevor Martin 'A Cardinal (Globe), George Murcell as 'First Baron' (up to Saturday 14 October 1961), John Nettleton as 'First Baron' (from Monday 16 October 1961), Ian Cullen as 'Second French Baron'/'Servant to Becket', James Keen as 'Arundel', Jeanne Hepple as 'Saxon Girl, John Fox as 'French Choir Boy'/'Prince' (up to Saturday 14 October 1961), Barrie Davies as 'French Choir Boy'/'Prince' (from Monday 16 October 1961), Marian Diamond as 'French Girl', P G Stephens as 'Bishop of Oxford'/'French Priest', Peter Jeffrey as 'Gilbert Folliot, Bishop of London' (up to Saturday 14 October 1961), John Wyse as 'Gilbert Folliot, Bishop of London' (from Monday 16 October 1961), Peter Russell as 'Bishop of York, Philip Voss as 'A Page'/'Provost Marshall', Stuart Hoyle as 'Second Soldier', Terence Greenidge as 'William of Corbeil', William Austin as 'First French Baron'/'Servant to Becket' (up to Saturday 14 October 1961), Michael Burrell as 'First French Baron'/'Servant to Becket' (from Monday 16 October 1961), and Yvonne Bonnamy as 'Young Queen'.
Directed by Peter Hall, with designs by Leslie Hurry, lighting by John Wyckham, and music by Iain Hamilton.
This is the longest running production of Becket, in London's West End or New York's Broadway, playing 84 performances at the Aldwych Theatre, and a further 165 performances at the Globe Theatre for a total of 249 performances.
This production was originally expected to join the repertory season at the Aldwych Theatre from 26 April 1961, but was delayed until 11 July 1961.
When this production was first announced in late 1960 it was expected to star Peter O'Toole as 'King Henry of England', but he pulled out shortly after the announcement.
During the repertory run Becket at the Aldwych Theatre, both Christopher Plummer and Eric Porter where commuting to the RSC's base in Stratford-upon-Avon to appear in the repertory run of William Gaskill's Richard III at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (opened 24 May 1961 and running up to November 1961) with Christopher Plummer playing 'Richard III' and Eric Porter playing 'Duke of Buckingham'. In addition Christopher Plummer was appearing as 'Benedick' in Michael Langham's Much Ado About Nothing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (opened 4 April 1961 running up to November 1961). Immediately prior to Becket opening, Eric Porter was actually the first actor to commute between Stratford and London as he was also playing the role of 'Lord Chamberlain' in Peter Hall's Ondine which opened at the Aldwych Theatre on 12 January 1961.
By coincidence when Becket transferred to the Globe Theatre, it replaced another Jean Anouilh play - The Rehearsal. Directed by John Hale, presented by the Bristol Theatre Royal, and featuring Maggie Smith and Robert Hardy, it opened at the Globe Theatre on 6 April 1961 for a seven-week season up to Saturday 27 May 1961, transfering to the Queen's Theatre from Monday 29 May to 15 July 1961, returning to the Globe Theatre from Monday 17 July to Saturday 9 December 1961, before finally transferring to the Apollo Theatre from Monday 11 December 1961 before closing on Saturday 17 February 1962.
1991: 1st West End London Revival with Derek Jacobi and Robert Lindsay
Previewed 26 September 1991, Opened 7 October 1991, Closed 7 March 1992 at the Haymarket Theatre
Translated by Jeremy Sams.
The cast featured Derek Jacobi as 'Thomas Becket', Robert Lindsay as 'King Henry II', Ken Bones as 'King Louis of France'/'First Baron', Phyllida Hancock as 'Gwendoline', David Lyon as 'Gilbert Folliot, Bishop of London', Dilys Hamlett as 'Queen Mother', Helen Schlesinger as 'Queen'/'Saxon Girl', Alan Bennion, Andrew Jarvis, Ben Porter, Brendan O'Hea, Dariel Pertwee, Gregor Truter, John Darrell, Mark Hadfield, Ronnie Stevens, Tom Beard, and Trevor Ray.
Directed by Elijah Moshinsky, with designs by Michael Yeargan, lighting by Mark Henderson, music by Corin Buckeridge, and sound by Paul Arditti.
Prior to London's West End this production, with the same cast, played at Guildford Yvonne Arnaud Theatre from Tuesday 30 July 1991 to Saturday 10 August 1991; Bradford Alhambra Theatre from Monday 12 August to Saturday 17 August 1991; Bath Theatre Royal from Monday 19 August to Saturday 24 August 1991; Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday 26 August to Saturday 31 August 1991; Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from Monday 2 September to Saturday 7 September 1991; Birmingham Alexandra Theatre from Monday 9 September to Saturday 14 September 1991; and Edinburgh King's Theatre from Monday 16 September to Saturday 21 September 1991.
2004: 2nd West End London Revival with Dougray Scott and Jasper Britton
Previewed 20 October 2004, Opened 27 October 2004, Closed 11 December 2004 at the Haymarket Theatre
A major new production of Jean Anouilh's play Becket in London starring Dougray Scott and Jasper Britton
Translated by Frederic Raphael and Stephen Raphael.
The cast featured Dougray Scott as 'Thomas Becket', Jasper Britton as 'King Henry II', Ann Firbank as 'Queen Mother', John Quentin as 'Archbishop of Canterbury', Bethan Bevan as 'Gwendolen', Michael Fitzgerald as 'King Louis of France'/'Bishop of York', Sean Baker as 'Gilbert Folliot, Bishop of London', Arthur Kohn, Catrina Lear, Daniel Pirrie, Gareth Llewelyn, Michael Cox, Paul Stewart, Polly Kemp, and Richard Stacey.
The cast where joined by two choristers from Westminster Abbey who sung the music of award-winning composer John Cameron, who had written a major new work for this production entitled Becket: Requiem for a Friendship.
Directed by John Caird, with designs by Stephen Brimson Lewis, lighting by Peter Mumford, music by John Cameron, sound by John Leonard, and historial consultant Alison Weir.
Unfortunately, although this production was booking up to Saturday 12 February 2005, it closed early on Saturday 11 December 2004 after a run of just seven weeks. The show's producer Kim Poster said in a statement: "Despite some positive reviews, ticket sales have not been sufficient and therefore I have made the very difficult decision to close the show early while audiences are still healthy, for the benefit of both the paying public and indeed the Becket cast. I would like to thank the very talented creative team and company for their tireless efforts and the beautiful production that is currently playing at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket."
Jasper Britton's London theatre credits include the roles of 'Petruchio' in Gregory Doran's revival of William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew at the Queen's Theatre 2004; 'Malcolm' in Loveday Ingram's revival of Alan Ayckborn's Bedroom Farce at the Aldwych Theatre in 2002; 'Petruchio' in Gregory Doran's revival of John Fletcher's The Tamer Tamed at the Queen's Theatre in 2004; the title role in Tim Carroll's revival of William Shakespeare's Macbeth at the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in 2001; 'Michael' in Peter Hall's production of Simon Gray's Japes at the Haymarket Theatre in 2001; 'Caliban' in Lenka Udovicki's revival of William Shakespeare's The Tempest at the Shakespeare's Globe in 2000; 'Thersites' in Trevor Nunn's revival of William Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre in 1999; and 'the Dauphin, Charles VII' in Gale Edwards' revival of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan at the Strand Theatre in 1994.
John Quentin's London theatre credits include the roles of 'Reverend Samuel Gardner' in Neil Bartlett 's revival of George Bernard Shaw's Mrs Warren's Profession at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in 1996; 'Hamm' in Alasdair Middleton's revival of Samuel Beckett's Endgame at the Battersea Arts Centre and transfer to the Arts Theatre in 1994; 'Hugo Latymer' in Tom Smith's revival of Noel Coward's Song at Twilight at the Greenwich Theatre in 1994; 'James Joyce' in Peter Wood's production of Tom Stoppard's Travesties at the Aldwych Theatre in 1975; 'Alonso' in Richard Digby Day's revival of William Shakespeare's The Tempest at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in 1972; and 'Jones' in the original cast of Anthony Page's production of John Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence at the Royal Court Theatre in 1964.
"John Caird has wisely converted the whole affair into a kind of spoken opera, heavy on sound and lights and ensemble playing sinister cathedral shadows. So this is a rediscovery rather than just another revival, and what is most impressive is a new adaptation by the father-and-son team of Frederic and Stephen Raphael - one that dares to confront the central question of the play without ever crashing through the original barriers with which Anouilh surrounded the script... they have come face-to-face with the issue that somehow the author never quite explored: Was the relationship between Henry and Becket a gay love affair or not?... Caird's mesmeric production, and an immensely strong supporting cast led by Ann Firbank and John Quentin, brilliantly blow the dust off what was in danger of becoming a courtly museum-piece, and turn it back into a period political thriller about ambition, sexuality, church and state." The Daily Express
"The story of Jean Anouilh's play Becket is better known as T S Eliot's Muder In The Cathedral... Made into a 1964 Oscar-nominated film starring Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton, the play is back in the West End with Dougray Scott and Jasper Britton. And it's a travesty of a production, best described as murder in the Theatre Royal... While Scott prowls Canterbury Cathedral with the steely-eyed visage that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho deploys at Stamford Bridge, the hapless Jasper Britton seeks desperately to carry the show as Henry II. He frantically plays his part as petulant child and lacks gravitas. And while the play makes much of the homoeroticism between Becket and Henry, Caird's production is about as homoerotic as The Archers. Elsewhere, the cast is riddled with suspects intent on terminating any credibility... Anouilh's drama is much more profound than Caird allows. Its structure, in the mould of Greek tragedy, is ridden over roughshod. Reported sequences are crassly mimed and a ragbag of theatrical styles are adopted and culminate in our heroes galloping about on wooden horses." The Mail on Sunday
"Jean Anouilh's Becket is a far from great play, but it can be very good theatre. Famous actors have been drawn to its two main roles; an enterprising director can do something to work in the serious political and religious themes which Anouilh largely neglected. But the latest revival, at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, has little to stir the mind or imagination... The trouble starts with the new English version. It is by Frederic Raphael and his son Stephen, which means we might reasonably have hoped for some Raphaelesque flamboyance. But what we get is pretty undistinguished, with lots of four-letter words and clunking anachronisms... With little in the text to steer it, John Caird's production wanders around. The only theme that stands out strongly is the supposed homoerotic attraction between Becket and King Henry, but even here the impact is blunted by a lacklustre performance as Becket from Dougray Scott. Jasper Britton's Henry is much more vigorous, although some of the rough stuff is overdone... A few of the smaller parts are invested with a decent seriousness, but the King of France is played as an absurb old queen." The Sunday Telegraph
Becket in London at the Haymarket Theatre previewed from 20 October 2004, opened on 27 October 2004, and closed on 11 December 2004.