Tickets are already running out for the 18-day festival at the Barbican Centre. Devotees will have to pay just pounds 90 for a season ticket entitling them to see every one of his 19 plays.
The event is a re-creation by Dublin's Gate Theatre of a festival it held in 1991 and which has been repeated only once since, to a rapturous reception in New York where people queued round the block to bag the full complement of shows.
When all the 19 plays are performed in the Barbican's two auditoriums in September, it will be the first opportunity for fans in Britain to consider Beckett's oeuvre as a whole. It will also be the last time the Gate Theatre performs the complete run.
Dr Julian Garforth, research fellow at the Beckett International Foundation at Reading University, said the retrospective was "heaven". "For anyone who is vaguely interested in Beckett this could be your ideal summer holiday. Take your summer leave late and go to London."
The foundation has been receiving inquiries from fans in the US for weeks, even though it has no direct links with the festival. "People are going to travel from some distance," Dr Garforth said. "Senior Beckett figures who saw these plays in Dublin and New York said the productions of Godot and Endgame were some of the best you will ever see."
The event was the brainwave of Michael Colgan, the Gate's artistic director, who first approached Beckett about his plans in 1987 because he realised that many of the shorter works were being seriously neglected. The writer's first reaction was: "You can't be serious." Yet he gave the project his blessing and encouragement, although he died before the Gate succeeded in bringing off the extraordinary feat.
Michael Colgan said: "Here was the most famous living writer in the world, when I knew him, and the one whose work was the least known and I thought something was wrong." He decided it would be possible to stage all Beckett's plays when he contrasted the effort involved with the massive stage shows of the Irish rock band U2, who are managed by his best friend Paul McGuinness.
He added: "The thing that makes it extraordinary is that it is the entire output of one man whose life and influences - and the people he influenced - are a complete history of the 20th century. He was a friend of James Joyce and [Swiss sculptor] Alberto Giacometti. It is the intellectual century."
Graham Sheffield, artistic director of the Barbican, saw the festival in America in 1996. "The buzz and excitement generated in New York convinced me that UK audiences should not miss out," he said.
For the London festival, starting on 1 September and part of Bite:99 (Barbican International Theatre Event), four plays - Waiting For Godot, Happy Days, Endgame and Krapp's Last Tape - will be presented as individual pieces. The remaining 15 plays will be presented as five triple bills. Among the actors are Beckett "specialists" Barry McGovern and Johnny Murphy, who both performed in the original Dublin shows and again in New York.
An exhibition of pictures taken by the theatre photographer John Haynes when Beckett was directing his own plays at the Royal Court in 1973 will accompany the programme, in addition to films, poetry readings and an education programme for schools.
Dr Garforth said the public appeared to be enjoying the Nobel Prize winner more as generations grew up with works which had seemed very strange when first performed. Waiting for Godot was recently voted the play of the century in a poll by the National Theatre in London.
He said he would not be surprised if much of the Barbican season was bought up for corporate entertainment. "It's not on the level of a European Cup final, but Beckett is becoming very big business. It's very, very popular."
This year is the 10th anniversary of Beckett's death and a series of international conferences and exhibitions are being planned for the millennium.
Samuel Beckett wrote 19 plays, which will be staged in approximately this order at the Barbican:
WAITING FOR GODOT
KRAPP'S LAST TAPE
ACTS WITHOUT WORDS II
COME AND GO
ACT WITHOUT WORDS I
ROUGH FOR THEATRE I
ROUGH FOR THEATRE II
A PIECE OF MONOLOGUEReuse content