Not currently on display at the V&A

Becket

Design
1961 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Design by Leslie Hurry for a stained glass window for Becket by Jean Anouilh as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, 1961.

Leslie Hurry (1909-1978) trained at the Royal Academy and during the 1930s became known as a surrealist painter. A one-man show in London in 1942 was seen by the theatre director, Michael Benthall, who recommended Hurry to the dancer and choreographer, Robert Helpmann, then planning a ballet based on Shakespeare's Hamlet. The success of his designs set Hurry on a second career as one of the most distinguished theatre designers of his generation. He designed operas, ballets and plays, notably Swan Lake for the Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1943, a production which stayed in the repertoire for thirty years; Venice Preserv'd for Peter Brook (1953); the Ring Cycle at Covent Garden (1954), and Troilus and Cressida at Stratford for Peter Hall (1960), famous for being staged in a sand pit.

The play, Becket or The Honour of God, by Jean Anouilh is an ironical view of the relationship between King Henry II and Thomas à Becket used for the playwright’s own debate. As he wrote in the programme note ‘I hope the English will forgive me…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.’ Anouilh’s play was translated into English by Lucienne Hill and directed by Peter Hall for Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, where it opened on 11 July
1961. It transferred to the Globe Theatre, London, and first performed on 13 December 1961.

Leslie Hurry’s set and costume designs came in for considerable discussion by the critics. Philip Hope Wallace in the Guardian (13 July 1961) considered the scenery had weight and splendour that served Hall’s approach to the play as a ‘large chronicle play’.

J. C. Trewin in the ILN (22 July 1961) noted that Hurry’s final scene was a ‘bold rendering of the direction “An indeterminate set, with pillars”, while the Evening Standard considered that Leslie Hurry’s sets stress the ominous and sometimes clash with the flippancy of the writing.’ J. W. Lambert in The Sunday Times (16 July 1961) wished ‘that Leslie Hurry’s sets, in themselves admirable, were less cumbrous. I don’t care to see a vast Norman arch trundling hesitantly downstage like a trunkless elephant ; and there is a deal of scurrying about on a dark stage between scenes – interrupting a play that should flicker along; and which has already been slowed down by a creakingly stiff translation.’ The scenery for Becket was constructed in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Workshops and by E Babbage and Co. and Stage Décor Ltd. and the production was lit by John Wyckham.


Object details

Categories
Object type
TitleBecket (assigned by artist)
Materials and techniques
Black ink, watercolour, pastel and pencil on paper
Brief description
Design by Leslie Hurry for a stained glass window for Becket by Jean Anouilh as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, 1961
Physical description
Ink, watercolour and crayon on paper design for a stained glass window by Leslie Hurry for the RSC's 1961 production of Becket by Jean Anouilh. The design shows a stained glass window with yellow, blue and red sections, set against a black background.
Dimensions
  • Height: 28.5cm
  • Width: 13.8cm
Marks and inscriptions
  • A V (On front side in purple ink)
  • 17 Becket (On reverse side in black ink)
Credit line
Given by Mrs Caro Rathbone
Literary referenceBecket
Summary
Design by Leslie Hurry for a stained glass window for Becket by Jean Anouilh as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, 1961.

Leslie Hurry (1909-1978) trained at the Royal Academy and during the 1930s became known as a surrealist painter. A one-man show in London in 1942 was seen by the theatre director, Michael Benthall, who recommended Hurry to the dancer and choreographer, Robert Helpmann, then planning a ballet based on Shakespeare's Hamlet. The success of his designs set Hurry on a second career as one of the most distinguished theatre designers of his generation. He designed operas, ballets and plays, notably Swan Lake for the Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1943, a production which stayed in the repertoire for thirty years; Venice Preserv'd for Peter Brook (1953); the Ring Cycle at Covent Garden (1954), and Troilus and Cressida at Stratford for Peter Hall (1960), famous for being staged in a sand pit.

The play, Becket or The Honour of God, by Jean Anouilh is an ironical view of the relationship between King Henry II and Thomas à Becket used for the playwright’s own debate. As he wrote in the programme note ‘I hope the English will forgive me…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.’ Anouilh’s play was translated into English by Lucienne Hill and directed by Peter Hall for Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, where it opened on 11 July
1961. It transferred to the Globe Theatre, London, and first performed on 13 December 1961.

Leslie Hurry’s set and costume designs came in for considerable discussion by the critics. Philip Hope Wallace in the Guardian (13 July 1961) considered the scenery had weight and splendour that served Hall’s approach to the play as a ‘large chronicle play’.

J. C. Trewin in the ILN (22 July 1961) noted that Hurry’s final scene was a ‘bold rendering of the direction “An indeterminate set, with pillars”, while the Evening Standard considered that Leslie Hurry’s sets stress the ominous and sometimes clash with the flippancy of the writing.’ J. W. Lambert in The Sunday Times (16 July 1961) wished ‘that Leslie Hurry’s sets, in themselves admirable, were less cumbrous. I don’t care to see a vast Norman arch trundling hesitantly downstage like a trunkless elephant ; and there is a deal of scurrying about on a dark stage between scenes – interrupting a play that should flicker along; and which has already been slowed down by a creakingly stiff translation.’ The scenery for Becket was constructed in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Workshops and by E Babbage and Co. and Stage Décor Ltd. and the production was lit by John Wyckham.
Collection
Accession number
S.1897-2014

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Record createdAugust 26, 2014
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