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Initially, Play was written in English during the winter of 1962–3. It was first published as Spiel (German translation) in the July 1963 Theater Heute journal. The world première was staged on 14 June 1963, at the Ulmer Theater, Ulm-Donau.
Although Play was first published in English (Faber and Faber) in 1964, Beckett continued to revise the script in the light of his own experiences in directing the work. 'I can't establish a definitive text of Play without a certain number of rehearsals,' he insisted.
When the Evergreen Review, New York, published the work (1965), the opening instruction concerning lighting – 'The response to light is immediate' – critically revised the original Faber version – 'The response to light is not quite immediate'. In addition, while supervising the first French production (directed by Jean-Marie Serreau at the Pavilion de Marson, Paris, June 1964), Beckett replaced the original da capo – 'Repeat play exactly' – with 'Repeat play', explaining:
According to the [original] text it is rigorously identical with the first statement. We now think it would be dramatically more effective to have it express a slight weakening, both of question and of response, by means of less and perhaps slower light and correspondingly less volume and speed of voice.
Alan Schneider, Beckett's favourite American theatre director, staged the US premiere of Play at New York's Cherry Lane Theatre on 4 January 1964. The National Theatre presented the first production in England at London's Old Vic, directed by George Devine, on 7 April 1964. In 1966, Beckett translated the text into French as Comédie.
The present film version was recorded at Pinewood Studios, England, in May 2000.