11:22 AM July 15, 2022
They wrote dark plays about menace and existential angst, but aside from being Nobel prizewinners, what did Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter have in common?
The perhaps-surprising answer is cricket. Although, as actor and cricket fan Stephen Tompkinson points out, Beckett’s playing career was the more distinguished.
“He’s the only Nobel prizewinning author listed as a first class cricketer in Wisden which is an extraordinary claim to fame,” he says.
“He played two matches against Northamptonshire for Dublin University – although Pinter was another Nobel prizewinner, he never got to be a first-class cricketer.”
Tompkinson will be playing the Irish writer – a left handed batsman and left arm medium pace bowler – in new play Stumped, which will be live streamed from Lord’s in St John’s Wood. Pinter, who once described cricket as “the greatest thing that God created”, is played by Andrew Lancel in the darkly comic two hander by cricket writer Shomit Dutta, who captained Pinter’s team, Gaieties CC, for years.
– Credit: PA
Tompkinson says the 55-minute play takes a witty approach to the pair’s friendship as they discuss their work and love of the game.
“Beckett had thought of likening Waiting for Godot to two batsmen putting on their pads and getting ready to go out to bat,” says Tompkinson
“They both had this love of cricket and were friends later in life, but the play takes it a little earlier to the late 60s. The first half is them scoring a game, and the second is the ritual dissecting of one another’s innings, with hints on what they were working on at the time.
“It’s a very clever script. Somehow the quirkiness of cricket really suits it, both were writers who employed the power of the pause, and there is plenty of room for that in cricket.”
– Credit: PA
The famously shy, Beckett rarely gave interviews but Tomkinson isn’t trying to embody him: “There are very few film clips which is possibly in my favour. I don’t have the extraordinary looks that he did, that iconic face, it’s just a lovely moment in time and we are having a little play with it.”
Cricket-wise he was “bitten by the bug at a very early age”.
“We lived in a little village outside Scarborough. My dad used to play for Yorkshire Bank and every weekend growing up we would watch my dad play cricket in some gorgeous picturesque pitches around Yorkshire,” he says.
Although Tompkinson used to play for celebrity cricket team The Bunburys, his own playing career is over, but he’s looking forward to acting at Lord’s: “It’s a beautiful marriage of the old and the new. There are few grounds anywhere in the world as beautiful. It’s a very special place.”
Now living in the North East, his north London connections go back to training at the Central School of Speech and Drama in the late ’80s alongside James Nesbitt, Jason Isaacs, Jared Harris and Graham Norton.
“My first student digs were on the Finchley Road. It was amazing, I had come straight from finishing A Levels and had very little experience, but I remember how proud I used to feel going up the same steps as Laurence Olivier and Judi Dench, I still am incredibly grateful for the training I received.”
It was comics like Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, and Stan and Ollie who made him want to go on stage.
“Being from the North East watching the people that could make my grandparents and mum and dad laugh on the TV, I always noticed that they laughed in a different way to something cute that I had done. It was quite intoxicating and I loved the effect on my nearest and dearest.”
– Credit: John StillwellPA
His own career has ranged from comedy (Drop The Dead Donkey) to light-hearted dramas (Ballykissangel, Wild at Heart) to darker dramas (Brassed Off, Sherwood). He’s currently filming a series he can’t talk about but it’s “a grim story that we are looking back on with today’s eyes that needs to be told”.
But he hopes whatever comes next is “different from the last thing I have done”.
“The possibility of variety in this job is endless and if I can get a taste of every dish I will be a very happy customer.”
Stumped is live streamed from Lord’s on September 10 and on demand from September 27 with a limited number of tickets to watch live available to MCC members. It includes a post show discussion with theatre critic Michael Billington, former England cricket captain Mike Brearley, and cricket journalist Emma John. Tickets £15-£100 from originaltheatreonline.com