A fascinating account of the influence of Samuel Johnson on the great Irish playwright Samuel Beckett captured an attentive audience for the 2005 Fleeman Lecture on September 17, delivered by Professor Chris Ackerley, of the University of Otago, New Zealand.
Professor, Ackerley, a specialist in the life and works of Beckett, showed how Beckett’s reading and his personal sense of Johnson’s melancholic hypochondria were into what he called (after Johnson) “the necessity of suffering.”
The lecture was preceded by the presentation of a fragment of an unfinished Beckett play Human Wishes read by JSA members Bronwen Hickman, Meg Probyn, Kate Burridge and Bryan Reid.
The fragment, set in Johnson’s House in Gough Square, depicts Johnson’s miscellany of dependant— Miss Williams (Bronwen Hickman), Mrs Demoulins (Meg Probyn) and Poll Carmichael (Kate Burridge)—in querulous and acrimonious discussion, with a wordless interruption by a drunken Dr Robert Levett (a walk-on part by Bryan Reid).
Professor Ackerley said the reading, the first he had heard performed, had illuminated his understanding the piece.
The Fleeman Lecture was preceded by the Annual General Meeting, where President Clive Probyn announced his retirement after his statutory four years’ tenure. Professor John Wiltshire was elected as the new President.