Not currently on display at the V&A

Becket

Design
1961 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Design by Leslie Hurry for hobby horse and its regalia for Becket by Jean Anouilh as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 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.


J. W. Lambert in The Sunday Times (16 July 1961) described the final meeting of Becket (Eric Porter) and King Henry (Christopher Plummer) on horseback. ‘They meet for the last time on horseback in the midst of an icy plain in France. And here the hobbyhorses, worn by the actors round the waist, which had seemed amusing but intrusive, came into their own. Brilliantly managed by both actors, these padded effigies took on a life of their own, twitching and prancing in the cold as their two riders sat apart – terribly apart, the king appealing, Becket looking back sadly over an impassable gap of the spirit. Here the actors lifted themselves and the play beyond intelligence, beyond ingenuity, into a quiet and desperate duel.’


Object details

Categories
Object type
TitleBecket (assigned by artist)
Materials and techniques
Black ink and crayon on paper
Brief description
Design by Leslie Hurry for hobby horse and its regalia for Becket by Jean Anouilh as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961
Physical description
Ink and crayon on paper design by Leslie Hurry. The design is for the RSC's 1961 production of Becket by Jean Anouilh and shows a horse in regalia.
Dimensions
  • Height: 28.6cm
  • Width: 38.9cm
Marks and inscriptions
Beckett [sic] (On front side in blue ink)
Credit line
Given by Mrs Caro Rathbone
Literary referenceBecket
Summary
Design by Leslie Hurry for hobby horse and its regalia for Becket by Jean Anouilh as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 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.


J. W. Lambert in The Sunday Times (16 July 1961) described the final meeting of Becket (Eric Porter) and King Henry (Christopher Plummer) on horseback. ‘They meet for the last time on horseback in the midst of an icy plain in France. And here the hobbyhorses, worn by the actors round the waist, which had seemed amusing but intrusive, came into their own. Brilliantly managed by both actors, these padded effigies took on a life of their own, twitching and prancing in the cold as their two riders sat apart – terribly apart, the king appealing, Becket looking back sadly over an impassable gap of the spirit. Here the actors lifted themselves and the play beyond intelligence, beyond ingenuity, into a quiet and desperate duel.’
Collection
Accession number
S.1921-2014

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest feedback

Record createdAugust 27, 2014
Record URL
Download as: JSON